“Skills shortage? You must be joking,” say ITBusiness.ca readers

Many Canadian companies continue to bemoan what they call the severe shortage of IT talent, and the impact this is having on their business.

This was also a common refrain at the recently concluded Tech Week convention in Toronto, where panelists at the opening event noted how corporations in various sectors are fiercely competing for a dwindling pool of IT professionals.

My article IT talent shortage “hurting” most Canadian companies highlighted the views of four panelists, who all concurred that there is an IT talent crunch and offered various suggestions on how to deal with it.

Reactions from ITBusiness.ca readers to this article were swift and unanimous. And they offered a very different perspective indeed!

Virtually all reader responses challenged the very notion that there is an IT talent crunch.

The unanimous view from readers was that companies are having a difficult time filling IT positions because they set the bar too high for job applicants, and concentrate on a very small sample of candidates.

And at least two talent specialists agree with our readers.

They basically submit that many firms fail to land desired employees by operating under antiquated hiring policies, practices and HR systems that stymie rather than support identification and retention of IT talent.

Our readers’ comments, meanwhile, ran the gamut – from brief and ironic, to discursive and instructional, to desperate. Here’s a sampling:

“Is this a joke?” asked one reader who signed in as Malone.

“There appears to be a disconnect between articles,” said Ron. He noted that our previous stories reported on the slashing of 25,000 positions in Nortel, the possible demise of 3Com, the worsening North American economic condition, and the increasing ability of IT professionals to work from almost anywhere in the world. “How is it that Canada is isolated from this talent?” Ron wanted to know. “The 49th parallel is not an Iron Curtain.”

A reader calling himself the Badger urged companies to stop outsourcing IT jobs. This practice, he said, results in less qualified workers being hired by companies that also spend less on employee training to maximize profits.

The skills shortage is being perpetuated by a perception that IT jobs are being outsourced to India, says John. Students, are less likely to make “four-year, $40,000 commitment” to a course if their job prospects are unsure.

“Ironically [IT jobs] will all be outsourced, because of media spin,” he said.

“I have thirty years in the business, continuously training and upgrading my skills and knowledge. I managed to finally find employment in a pizza store.

I have SmallTalk, Java, Ruby, Rails, etc. Can it be that we are too expensive? – wonders Steve Messamore

“If talent is so hard to find, why is it that I can’t find any of these positions needing people. Someone please tell me where I can send my résumé or contact information,” says Jayson.

By the way, he’s an IT network specialist with Unix and Cisco experience and is located in eastern Ontario.

One of the problems I have seen is that IT workers are expected to acquire training at their own expense and risk, observes on reader named ljp.

Given the shelf life of IT training, ljp said, the risk of ending up unemployed after getting a certificate is pretty significant. 

This was an experience shared by his relative who spent several thousands of dollars for a network course, but ended up unemployed and “hundreds of prospective Dell employees who paid for Dell specific courses…but ended up [being] laid off when Dell shut down the location permanently.”

“Quite frankly it’s time the industry stopped blaming the other guy for its own actions,” said Glen Ford, one of our readers and a senior partner at TrainingNOW.

TraningNOW is a Mississauga, Ont-based firm that provides task-based training to entrepreneurs and independent professionals.

Ford started out in the construction industry, but also has more than 20 years of experience in project management consulting. He says the feedback he gets from various clients, information gleaned from job ads, and his own experience indicates that companies are creating the talent shortage by limiting their own choices.

He provides seven key reasons why organizations are having a hard time nailing down the IT talent they need:

  1. Unrealistic Expectations – Many companies are looking for people with extensive experience in products that haven’t been in the market for long. “You won’t find a Java programmer with more than 10 years experience [as] the product is only 8-years-old. Similarly, he said, it would be hard to find a project director with “hands-on experience”, as “a project director is at least two levels removed from project managers who actually have the hands-on experience.”
  1. Low Training Budget – Skills need to be nurtured but many organizations skimp on training and allow their human assets to deteriorate.
  1. Sweet-spot hiring – Let’s face it two to five years of experience is the best hiring point but if nobody hires a newbie, there won’t be any two to five-year experience folks around. And if no one hires from the five-years+ crowd, there won’t be anyone to train the new hires.
  1. Using secretaries to hire technical staff – Hiring IT staff is very complex, Ford says. Companies need people who can understand the technology, the market and how it relates to the organization. The hiring team must be up to date with the latest certifications and training programs but must also be aware of what tech skills are transferable to other job situations.
  1. Believing “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” – Stop restricting your eyes to the under 35 crowd. Just because a person is a baby boomer doesn’t mean he or she isn’t familiar with the latest technology, it just means they’ve seen it before. “If we’ve been around this long we expect and want to learn more. And yes, we expect better pay – because we are worth it.”

  1. Blaming schools for not turning out more IT graduates – The IT industry should get out there and change the situation. Make IT careers more rewarding. “Why would any student go into a profession where they have to train for four years, starve for two, work for three, and then hope they don’t have to look for work again for the next 10 years?”
  1. Expecting something for nothing – Businesses must be prepared to spend money to get the talent they need. “If you can’t find the person you need locally, you need to be prepared to fly the talent in and maybe pay for the cost of travel and re-location.”

Despite the opinions of many readers, from the point of view of Canadian companies there is a talent shortage, according to a representative of one of Canada’s largest online job site.

“The feedback we get from our clients is there is a shortage of talent,” says Robert Waghorn, communications manager for Monster.ca.

“The biggest challenge for many companies is finding the right and qualified match for the position they’re advertising.” Candidates, he said, have to fulfill certain criteria that meet the employer’s need.

However, many organizations “have bought-into the talent shortage storyline” rather than do something about the problem, according to another talent expert.

“Companies are missing out on some of the most creative and experienced talent because their hiring practices, policies, organizational thinking and yes HR systems are slow, parochial, outdated and frankly sometimes [act as] obstacles to talent acquisition,” says Uma G. Gupta, a consultant in talent recognition and acquisition.

She has four simple tips for companies looking for IT talent:

Recognize and invest in talent – Companies must frequently review hiring polices, practices and procedures to make sure they do not hamper the acquisition and retention of talent. These processes must be flexible to meet arising needs. Also a there must be a reward system for talent acquisition to encourage better performance.

Get rid of Web cobwebs – A lot of company career Web sites are in need of a serious overhaul. They are not geared to attracting top talent and are also very hard to navigate. Re-evaluate your company Web site, try it out yourself to determine which features need to be revamped or added.

Seek out unconventional talent – If a company’s talent pool is cut from the same fabric, group think sets in. Look for individuals with leadership skills from other industries. Take some risks and hire those with career paths that are interesting and untraditional.

Train for talent recognition – Given the pressure of today’s talent market it’s understandable that hiring managers are always looking for candidates who can “hit the ground running.” This, however, can limit a company’s choices or – even worse – allow the organization to miss out a few gems.

Studies have shown many hiring managers aren’t aware of their biases and prejudices that may lead to the rejection of qualified candidates, says Gupta.

The skill to recognize talent can be acquired through training, brainstorming and careful mentoring, she said.

“It’s important to actively recruit those who, even though they may have a slight handicap in the short run, will in the long term prove to be an invaluable asset.”  

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