Laid-off IT workers struggle for fresh start

Louis Barsony anxiously waited by the door as several hundred unemployed high-tech workers filed into one of Ottawa’s west-side auditoriums Tuesday.

“”I’ve been planning this event for so long,”” said the network systems engineer to a colleague. Barsony, who was laid off from Nortel over two years ago, now volunteers his time at the Ottawa Talent Initiative (OTI), a networking group comprised of local IT workers who still feel the brunt of the now-infamous high-tech meltdown.

“”I guess all we can do now is wait to see how things turn out,”” he said before taking a seat at the back of the jam-packed auditorium. Along with close to 400 peers, he settled in to hear speakers from Ottawa’s city council and the Ontario government. Also on hand was Marlene Catterall, Liberal MP for Ottawa West Nepean.

But the larger thrust of the OTI event, called the Ottawa Talent Forum, was to give laid-off workers a chance to design a “”community action plan”” that will spell out different strategies for job creation, income generation and partnering opportunities between governments, businesses and job-seekers. The plan will be released March 19, and all three levels of government have requested copies.

“”Our (OTI) committee has all these ideas, but we’re hoping to get even better ideas from the participants,”” said Barsony just before attendees broke off into workshops to brainstorm new strategies.

One of those ideas is to further examine a deferred tax incentive that is currently available to the film industry, and to see whether such an incentive can be applied to high-tech startups. Under such a system, film startups don’t pay taxes until they turn a profit, explained Barsony.

“”In the future, we are going to be looking at engaging people involved in startups to see what sort of changes can be made to help them out,”” he said.

One of the ideas Barsony and others have already conceptualized is to have massive gatherings similar to Tuesday’s event. He said the OTI has found there are a lot of employment services offered by companies, mostly of them on government contract. But a lot of those people who could benefit from such services aren’t aware of them, he said.

Such services include job-seeking strategies, most of which Barsony has tried personally.

“”All of the suggested (job-seeking) strategies work to a certain extent,”” he said. “”And they all work to varying degrees with different people. I tend to believe I’m using all methods and I hope I’m using them effectively.””

These days, Richard Lefebvre considers getting an interview a sign of success. Formerly with Nortel for 19 years, Lefebvre now looks for work and volunteers on OTI’s organizing committee. He was ecstatic to find out he was among six candidates to be short-listed for a job that he interviewed for the day of the OTI conference.

“”I haven’t had an interview in four months. So even getting to that stage is tough. For the most part, if you’re applying for a job, there are still 1,000 people applying for that job.””

Barsony gets the occasional “”nibble,”” but in the meantime he volunteers his time, working toward his employment goals.

“”It’s a bit of a balancing act, but I’m seeing progress on both sides, eventually ending in … employment some day.””

Lefebvre added the tech sector is showing signs of life, but companies are still being very cautious when it comes to new hires. Not one, he said, is going to “get themselves into the same bloated payroll that they were in before.”

There are, however, a few more contract positions becoming available, he said. “I’m even hearing rumblings from my contacts at Nortel saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people for a six-month contract here or a one-year contract there.’”

Companies will probably continue to look for a “flexible workforce,” Lefebvre predicted.

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