Canada set for IT profit and employment boost

While RIM’s patent troubles and Nortel’s accounting scandal and subsequent management shakeup have dominated headlines in recent months, two separate studies show the doom and gloom of the dot-com bubble burst is starting to fade.

According to a report from CNC Global Ltd., released Monday, Calgary’s market for IT contractors was up by 26 per cent last quarter — usually the slowest of the year.

The data, which was compiled from July to September, showed an overall increase in companies’ demand for IT skills such as Java, Unix and Oracle, combined with business and communications skills. IT hiring was up four per cent across Canada as a whole with full time employment demand nearly hitting 100 per cent in Montreal — the highest in the country. Edmonton closely followed Montreal at 79 per cent with overall demand up by 59 per cent, driven largely by the booming oil and gas sector.

In addition to oil and gas driving IT hires in Edmonton and Calgary, other regions, like Vancouver, which is ramping up its infrastructure in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, are experiencing growth. Vancouver saw a 20 per cent increase in demand for Web developers, which contributed to a 60 per cent jump in overall demand in the last 12 months.

Christopher Drummond, vice-president of marketing at CNC Global, said the numbers add up to the strongest third quarter that the job agency has seen in the last 36 months. CNC Global’s customers are telling it their requirements are coming out of a demand for business growth.

“The role of it is changing,” said Drummond. “It’s becoming more of a strategic partner involved in business development.”

This shift in thinking has led many companies to seek business related skills in addition to traditional IT ones. Companies, however, are having trouble getting the right people because of a disconnect between what human resources is putting in job ads and what executives really want, said Paul Swinwood, president of the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC).

“We’re seeing the business and IT coming together,” he said. “For the people that can speak both sides, we’re seeing quite an increase in demand there.”

The fact that businesses are hiring again is a good barometer of the industry’s health as a whole. A separate report released by the Conference Board of Canada Monday forecasts ICT sector profits to rise to $6.3 billion this year — $1.3 billion over last year. The ICT sector’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 4.9 per cent forecasted growth exceeds that of the overall Canadian economy at about 3 per cent, according to the report.

“When you reach capacity at a certain point you start hiring again,” said Louis Theriault, director of industrial outlook service at Conference Board of Canada, which is based in Ottawa.

The jump in demand for IT employees is also being met with, to some degree, salary increases in executive roles such as project management and system analysts, creating a tight labour market, said Drummond.

“There are some specific jobs where we’re seeing a bit of a pinch,” he said. “It’s getting hard to find senior level people that’s forcing salaries to go up. It’s also making it difficult for organizations to attract all of the people they need.”

Likewise, SHRC’s Swinwood said increased demand for permanent employees and salary hikes are signs of a tight labour market.

“Most of the contractors are either finding long term employment or have contracts or have moved over into permanent,” said Swinwood.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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