Unemployment rate low despite slew of layoffs: SHRC

The economy is doing well by most estimations. However, last month, when systems integrator CGI announced it was going to cut 1,000 jobs from its workforce, it became the latest company to make such a round of cuts. Nortel, Hewlett-Packard and Ingram Micro are among those that have made similar announcements in the past few years.

But according to the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC), the IT sector is in good shape. There is only a 1.8 per cent unemployment rate in the technology sectors it tracks.

“On the one hand, we have CGI announcing layoffs; on the other hand, CGI is desperately looking for people. We have a mismatch of skills,” says Paul Swinwood, president of SHRC.

The problem, according to Swinwood, is that the types of jobs in demand are now changing. The low-level programming jobs aren’t likely to get you at the top of the pile on a stack of resumés. However, if your IT skills are complemented by business process knowledge, then employers might be giving you a call.

John Reid, president of the CATA Alliance, agrees. A survey CATA just completed in the Ottawa area found that upwards of 80 per cent of companies are planning to hire in the next 12 months. And many are having to look across Canada for the skills they need.

“So the message there is that there is a demand for a whole set of high-tech skills in the labour market,” Reid said.

However, the high-tech industry goes through a lot of adjustments. And as this happens, layoffs will occur.

“So you can find yourself very well trained with some very unique skills, but if there’s a shift in the marketplace through technology or consumer demand change, then you’re no longer in the hot sector,” he said. “That’s why you see these seemingly contradictory messages in the marketplace.”

IT people need to constantly upgrade their skills if they want to remain employable, he said.

“The overall demand for IT skills continues to be quite strong,” Reid says.

Advanced security technologies, such as perimeter control and biometrics, wireless sector and the content businesses surrounding it, and the healthcare sectors are among the areas where demand for skilled labour is growing, according to CATA.

Co-op or parish
The business and education communities need to form a partnership in order to address the gap, Swinwood said. Companies are finding it more and more difficult to just find someone with seven years of skills in the area they need.

“It’s co-op or parish.”

Some companies are looking ahead at how they fill the pipeline — even at the high school level, he said. They need to create partnerships with potential employees when they are still in school.

Companies won’t have any choice but to create co-op programs because they won’t be able to find people, Swinwood said.

However, in an event held late last summer to discuss the drop in IT college program enrolment, CGI’s Carol Ariano, while lamenting the lack of skilled labour, said the company could only afford to hire a few interns. Co-op students don’t contribute as much as those with years of skills, and CGI can only absorb so many new hires that aren’t generating as much work as experienced staffers, she said speaking at the National IT Human Resource Forum.

At the same time, CGI is advertising for people with years of technical experience, she said. The lack of skills is detrimental to the IT industry, she added.

“This is an industry that has disappointed its clients big time.”

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