SHRC examines IT opportunities for minorities

The Software Human Resource Council (SHRC) is conducting research to determine not only what obstacles are hindering some Canadians from entering the IT industry, but also what solutions are available to recruit more of these traditionally underrepresented


Denyce Diakun, director of career awareness and skills development for SHRC, said her organization’s five-month Researching Careers in Information Technology (R-CIT) initiative addresses the federal government’s Innovation Strategy, which itself is designed to create a more inclusive workforce by increasing participation from underrepresented groups.

“What’s happened is that the labour market will be totally dependent on immigration by the year 2011,” she said, commenting on Statistics Canada stats that suggest the aging workforce and lower fertility rates could eventually trigger severe labour shortages. “What we’re trying to do is look at how do we recruit, retain and attract more people to the field of IT.”

As part of the R-CIT project, SHRC is currently undertaking preliminary research. Findings stemming from the project will be presented in an internal document for SHRC and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). To facilitate the objectives of the study, a survey will be sent to various organizations to collect information on underrepresented groups, which are defined by HRSDC as older workers, Aboriginal Canadians, women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and new immigrants.

John Reid, president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), the country’s largest high-tech association, said his organization is fully behind SHRC and its R-CIT effort.

“We are partners with the Software Human Resource Council, and we have an annual event with them where we basically tour Canada, commenting on labour market trends, technology trends and financial trends,” said Reid. “So we very much recognize the importance of developing this type of broad labour market information.”

CATA is taking a special focus on women in technology, he noted, adding that his organization’s efforts stem from a partnership it started several years ago with Springboard, a U.S.-based group that brings women entrepreneurs closer to sources of career development and capital to grow their businesses. Faced with statistics suggesting that women make up only a small percentage of the IT sector in Canada despite representing 50 per cent of the overall workforce, CATA also has a division tackling the issue.

While groups like SHRC and CATA are looking for ways to attract to the IT field segments of the population that have traditionally gone different routes, unemployed IT professionals like Brian Fear are trying to get back into the field. As a 50-something, Caucasian male, however, Fear falls outside of the parameters of the SHRC study. And while he said he applauds efforts to help get people jobs, he nonetheless expressed frustration over having tried with no luck to find employment after the Niagara Region company he had worked at for some 15 years went under.

“Some of the obstacles that I’m aware of are the fact at this point I don’t have specific (certifications),” he said. “I’ve been in departmental IT management, I’ve been in network services management, I’ve installed LAN architectures, I’ve done budgets, I’ve fixed printers. But I don’t have the credentials at this point. And one of the things that has caused that is I’ve always been in management, and I’ve always been there to manage the technology not to master it.”

Because his former employer had allocated precious little money in its annual budgets for training, Fear said that there was only enough money available to ensure that those under his leadership got things like Windows NT certification. Now that he’s unemployed in an industry many expect will experience significant job shortages in the years ahead, he said he’s finding it difficult to re-enter the IT industry, partly because of naive expectations some employers have.

“I notice some of the employers these days that they’re looking for somebody who can fix printers, be a network administrator, be a programmer, be a systems analyst, write up the budgets for next year, be a database manager,” he said. “They’re asking for sometimes what I consider to be an unreasonable level of skills across the board. The company I came from, all those different skills were (each handled by) a different person.”

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