According to the Software Human Resources Council (SHRC), there was only a 1.9 per cent unemployment rate in the tech industry at the end of 2005. This figure is extremely low, even if one takes into account the overall unemployment rate in Canada, which was, as of July 7, at a 32-year low of 6.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
The SHRC tracks 21 IT occupations that fall broadly under six categories: Managers, engineers, analysts, programmers, technicians and other IT. According to a report it published in 2006, the IT industry had some 600,000 workers in 2005 and tech jobs were predominately full time (95 per cent).
But if the unemployment rate is so low, why are so many readers having trouble believing it?
The problem, according to the SHRC and CATA Alliance, is there is a disparity between the kinds of skills companies are looking for and the kinds of workers actually available.
Employers want the worker who has it all – someone who can program in C++, understands the theory of the long tail and knows how to rationalize business processes so they meet requirements for Sarbanes-Oxley and PIPEDA. And let’s not forget that this jack of all trades must also have the ability to resolve business problems with the innovative use of technology, boast at least 10 to 15 years of experience and possess a tongue of gold with which he or she can finesse IT and business workers alike.
Companies bemoan their inability to find such employees, but at the same time, they seem unwilling to make the necessary investment in the workforce to develop the skills they’re looking for.
At an industry conference I once attended looking at this issue, one of the speakers from a leading Canadian technology company complained about its troubles finding workers with experience, even as recent graduates took the same stage and complained about the difficulty they were having finding jobs.
The answer, say the SHRC and CATA, is creating co-op programs and internships to give students the experience they need as they build up their knowledge.
But the speaker from the tech company said it could only afford to take on a handful of co-op students a year. Without government funding, she said, the company simply couldn’t afford to have too many workers who weren’t perfectly up to snuff.
According to another study by the SHRC, foreign-educated and -born workers also face barriers entering the IT job market from employers worried about their ability to fit in.
Such attitudes explain why companies are always on the search for employees. If employers want well-rounded workers capable of traversing many plains, they must be willing to make an investment in the workforce to ensure that people are equipped with the right types of skills.
Such workers aren’t going to materialize magically – especially if they are always being faced with Catch-22 barriers. Companies must play their part in nurturing the workers they need and moving them up the ranks.