Optimism drives tech sector hiring in 2017, but skills shortage remains a challenge – Hays

Technology companies in Canada are optimistic about hiring next year, but some are skittish about investing in new grads, despite a shortage of talent, according to this year’s Hays Salary Guide.

Now in its seventh year, the annual survey polled employers across the country and in multiple industries for their take on 2016 and what lies ahead, and found the Canadian IT sector was among the country’s most optimistic.

In fact, Hays found that more than three-quarters of IT employers anticipate business growth in the new year, but in true Canadian fashion, they are playing it safe, Soley Soucie, Hays Canada’s Ottawa-based eastern region director said.

However, the survey also found that 87 per cent of employers have moderate to extreme difficulty recruiting top talent: There’s a big shortage in front-end, cloud and mobile developers especially, and since the DevOps movement is relatively new, it’s hard to find experienced people, she said.

Overall, 54 per cent of respondents feel Canada suffers from a dearth of viable talent, with 40 per cent citing lack of training and professional development for employees as a primary cause of the shortage. However, more than half of respondents still plan to add to their roster in the near future, with 61 per cent of employers saying they are somewhat to very likely to hire new staff to address workplace pressures next year.

Given both the skills gap and the global economic uncertainty, it makes sense that IT firms are being conservative rather than making big changes to their operations, Soucie said, though the the Hays survey found reason for optimism too: 58 per cent of respondents experienced growth in business activity during the past 12 months, and 78 per cent anticipate business activity to increase in the coming year. Only 16 per cent think it will stay the same.

Another reason for the industry’s positive mood can be traced to the fact that many technology companies are in good shape, with venture capital money flowing again in Canada, said Soucie, who sees especially strong evidence of this in the nation’s capital. There, high tech startups are in full force – 350 and counting. “It’s good to see companies keeping people and maneuvering people through the skills shortage they are having,” she said.

And despite the uncertainty created by Brexit and the U.S. president-elect taking office in the new year, 41 per cent think the economy will strengthen in the next six to 12 months, while a similar amount – 44 per cent – think it will remain the same.

In the meantime, Soucie said that typical corporate IT departments are stable and looking to maintain the status quo, while technology companies, despite the optimism, are also being cautious in their approach to hiring. She sees this as a positive, since it has served them well during economic downturns, and means employment is not fluctuating dramatically.

Soucie also said that since it’s difficult for Canadian tech companies to find the people they need, they are doing their best to make the most of the talent that’s already in-house, and doing a good job of retaining it.

Once again Ottawa serves as an excellent example, she said, with numerous employees reporting calls from head hunters yet staying put. “It says a lot of the culture,” said, adding that companies are also looking introspectively and paying attention to whether they are perceived as being the employer of choice.

One thing few companies are shying away from is hiring new grads, said Soucie, with 69 per cent of companies actively recruiting.

As for 31 per cent who don’t, Soucie said that some companies feel concerned that new grads will jump ship for new, higher paying opportunities the first chance they get. But if employers can lay out a career path, perhaps as part of succession planning, and show they will invest in a new hire, the loyalty built and opportunity to grow can outweigh a rich offer from another firm, she said.

The culture and flexible office hours that are a hallmark of tech firms can also contribute to the attraction and retention of employees, Soucie said.

“Compensation and benefits are important, but there’s a lot of low hanging fruit things that people are missing,” she said.

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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