Canada may face shortage of RFID implementers

Experts warn that we can expect a shortage of qualified personnel to install and run RFID when demand for the technology begins to peak over the next few years.

Canada is still in an evaluation phase with radio frequency identification technology, with some companies testing the waters and experimenting with beta-level projects, said Toronto-based retail analyst Marty McGuiness.

“There’s relatively few people getting hands-on experience right now. There’s lots of people looking and following what’s happening but there’s a much smaller number of people who are directly involved,” he said.

There’s currently no sense of urgency around the technology, said McGuiness, but “what we’ll see is a mushrooming of acceptance, then what we’ll see is the dearth of talent.”

Bob Moroz, president of Toronto-based R. Moroz Ltd., has been involved with RFID at various levels for almost a decade. Interest in the technology is beginning to blossom, but the understanding of how it works and what can be done with it just isn’t there yet.

Most people associate RFID with retail, thanks to the involvement of giants like Wal-Mart, he said, but there are applications for it beyond supply chain.

“It’s like a toolkit. There’s not one tool for all types of requirements; there’s not one type of RFID technology for all types of solutions,” he said, adding that there a fundamental lack of knowledge around RFID protocols and standards.

“People buy a product, buy a tag and integrate it as part of their system. A lot of time what happens is they’re not putting in the right type of RFID front-end for that specific environment.”

Organizations such as GS1 Canada, the body that helps set international standards for RFID, are trying to combat that lack of comprehension. GS1 formed a strategic advisory council made up of 18 solution providers – including Accenture, Sun, Bell and IBM – last year. It also created an education sub-committee to increase the level of understanding about RFID. The sub-committee will offer basic and advanced courses to encourage general knowledge and actual implementation know-how.

It’s a step in the right direction, said Jack Brooks, vice-president of business development for EPC Global Canada (a division of GS1). But he acknowledged that a shortage of qualified RFID personnel is likely.

“I don’t see it as a huge issue now, but as things roll out, people have to get trained and they have to turn somewhere,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) released a study that indicates 75 per cent of companies are seeing a shortage of talent to implement and service RFID. That number is slightly lower than the 80 per cent recorded in the same survey conducted in 2005.

CompTIA’s study is based on a pool of American respondents, but the U.S. is often a bellwether when it comes to Canadian technology trends, said McGuiness. An American talent shortage may serve as a wake-up call for Canadian firms, he said. To a degree, the U.S. is a guinea pig for RFID – a situation that Canadians might be able to benefit from as the technology takes hold here.

Late last year, CompTIA said it was planning to offer a certification exam for RFID. Brooks said RFID courses and certifications need to be made more widely available to help prevent a talent shortage in Canada.

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