Technology may have changed radically between 1961 and 2001, but the people that maintain it and operate it haven’t.
A report issued by the Software Human Resource Council last week compares census data from those four decades. The
conclusions are inescapable — the overwhelming majority of workers are young, affluent and mostly male, and have been since the profession started.
Between 1961 and 2001, the average salary for IT workers has increased from $31,000 to $47,000 (adjusted to year 2000 dollar figures), 150 per cent of the national average. In 2001, 35 per cent of IT workers were aged 25 to 34; that age group makes up 21 per cent of the national average.
“”I would anecdotally say that over the time period we looked at, the salary was much higher than what the average Canadian salary was . . . It has always been an industry where people have been better paid than other industries,”” said Lee Jacobs, a labour market specialist with The Software Human Resource Council and one of the report’s authors. (Since the data examined only extends to 2001, some of the deepest job cuts so far this decade are not reflected in the report.)
IT workers are also better educated than the rest of the population, but that has diminished over time. In 1961, IT workers were six times more likely to have a university degree. By 1981, they were four times more likely, and by 2001, two to three times more likely.
The number of foreign-born IT workers has been consistently high in Canada. In 1961, almost a quarter of workers were born outside of Canada. By 1996, that number had grown to 30 per cent. (The average for the overall labour force that same year was 20 per cent.)
An issue that has remained pertinent through the decades is the lack of female representation in the IT profession.
“”I would say the one challenge is the issue of women,”” said François Vaillancourt, a professor of economics at the University of Montreal and the lead author of the report. “”You’ve integrated the newcomers (foreign-born workers) rather well, but you’re not integrating a much larger stock of human capital, which is women.””
In 1961, almost 85 per cent of the IT industry was male. By 1991, that number dropped to 70 per cent, but rose slightly to almost 73 per cent by 2001. That year, the overall labour force was 53 per cent male. “”There definitely have been some improvements but there is definitely a gender gap,”” Jacobs said.
The people doing the job haven’t changed much over the years, but the titles they apply to it have. What began as one job title in 1961, according to the National Occupational Classification system, has grown to more than a dozen.
In 1961, the national census included the occupation “”computer programmers”” for the first time (in French, they were referred to as calculator programmers or programmateur de calculatrice).
“”We started off with one, went to three,”” said Jacobs. “”Generally there are about 21 that are recognized now. I don’t imagine that will ever stop growing — and shrinking, because I’m sure some of the occupations will evolve into other names or other occupations and be rolled in.””
Darwin Daviduk’s most recent title is director of information technology, services division for the Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Ministry. Daviduk has worked for the ministry since 1971, originally as a programmer.
“”I think for the most part, (the industry) has not changed much. From a perception point of view, IT people are looked upon as geeks,”” he said.
Daviduk, a former school teacher, entered the profession wanting to be an efficiency expert. “”I wanted to help people do things better,”” he said. “”Then when the PC came out, people kept thinking of IT people simply as those geeks that make those things run.””
The advent of the PC in the 1980s and subsequent improvements to technology radically changed the job, usually for the better. “”The work of the technologist has become quite a bit easier,”” said Daviduk.
“”We dealt with punchcards to begin with . . . You had to carry boxes and boxes of this stuff from wherever you worked to the data centre, whereas now you press a button and send work to a computer. . . . The Internet obviously made it even more interesting.””
The fact that technology — if not the people that operate it — changes so rapidly makes it difficult to extrapolate what the future might look like, said Jacobs. But, he added, 2001-2004 may turn out to be a slower period of development.
For Daviduk, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The technology development cycle has been consistent over time, he said. You begin with an examination of what you need, you consider what the alternatives are, you begin developing a product, test it, implement it, then review the whole process.
“”Those things happened in 1970 and they’re still happening in the 21st century. The technology has changed but the thinking hasn’t that much,”” he said.