Although the threat of a skills gap continues to loom large in the IT industry in Canada, hiring young people and certifying their skills might be the best way to build a more competent workforce, according to the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

In a survey released this week, CompTIA revealed that out of the 125 Canadian business executives that it polled, 90 per cent of them were concerned about the skill gap between employees and job requirements in IT. More than half of them were also concerned about the quality of hires they were bringing into their workplaces.

While a lack of competence affects productivity and customer service delivery, another 38 per cent of the executives said they believed human error and a lack of skill endangered their companies’ security.

With the rise of social media, compounded by a lack of security expertise when using websites and applications, employers might be right to be concerned about their young employees and whether they are really up to scratch.

But Canadian SMBs can narrow the skills gap by bringing in young, talented workers from internships and co-ops, said Denise Woods-Goldstein, international director in Canada for CompTIA. She was speaking at the iTech conference in Toronto on Thursday about tackling the issue of recruiting in IT.

“A lot of my training partners are looking for organizations to take the students on,” she said in an interview. “Not just giving them grunt jobs but actually giving them learning on the job to see that they like information technology.”

But Woods-Goldstein added that addressing the skills gap goes even farther. She said SMBs and bigger corporations alike have to be willing to invest in fresh talent, both in younger generations and after they’ve already been hired.

She pointed to certification exams, like the ones administered by CompTIA, as ways to ensure there’s a standardization of IT skills within a workplace. This is also really key in bringing young hires up to par and ensuring their skills keep up with their job requirements.

The CompTIA survey found the most coveted skills in the industry included knowledge of networks and infrastructure, server and data management, and storage and data backup.

To get young people to that point, CompTIA wants to reach students even earlier in their career path. It’s launching a pilot program for middle-schoolers in New Brunswick that will encourage students to pursue jobs in IT.

“Everyone’s got that neighbour who’s an expert and says, what about Nortel? They don’t hear all the good news that’s going on in IT, they think the negative and laying off. That’s not the case; IT is actually hiring at a tremendous speed right now,” Woods-Goldstein said. “We want to get them into thinking about IT and diagnostics and figuring problem-solving.”

SMB executives who are interested in learning more about narrowing the skills gap can join CompTIA’s next executive forum meeting, held on June 18 in Ottawa.

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