SHRC labour stats show confusion around job titles

TORONTO — Canadian IT professionals who work the most hours don’t get paid for overtime and are often employed by people who don’t understand their actual roles, according to labour statistics released Thursday by the Software Human Resource Council.

Two years in development, the SHRC’s National Survey of Technology Occupations included responses from 35,000 public and private sector employees and more than 25,000 employers in 18 regions across the country. The project was undertaken in partnership with the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). Statistics Canada conducted the surveys.

While some of the findings confirm popular beliefs about the IT industry — that it remains mostly young, male and well-educated — it also reveals a marked difference between what employers think various IT staff do compared to their real duties. It also shows relatively few financial incentives for many IT workers outside their base salary, with 44.6 per cent saying they do not receive bonuses, stock options or profit-sharing opportunities.

Francois Vaillancourt, a professor of economics at the University of Montreal and the co-author of the SHRC study, said that on average, IT professionals work about 43.2 hours each week. Less than 20 per cent of the private sector pays at overtime rates, while 30 per cent are not compensated at all and another 30 per cent are given time off. It’s a different story in the public sector, he noted, where 70 per cent of IT employees are either paid overtime or given time off. Government IT staff also work less on average, according to the data.

“”You chain them to their desks and then you don’t pay them,”” Vaillancourt told an audience of ITAC members as the results were presented.

Vaillancourt showed a chart that mapped what IT employees described as their job versus the title employers used to describe them. Although they were in agreement on some of them, others showed considerable variation. Employers might hire someone they call a “”computer and telecommunications hardware engineer”” for example, but those doing the job call themselves network systems/data communications engineers, software engineers or computer network operators.

Some job titles, like “”computer programmer”” have been captured in StatsCan data since 1961, Vaillancourt noted. He suggested that job titles may not matter as much when there’s so much multitasking within IT functions.

“”It could be that they just don’t want to be bothered by HR,”” he said. “”They just give them the one job title, but they’re actually doing something else.””

Key IT skill sets, according to employees, included analysis at 63 per cent, while time management and planning were identified as the important business skills, at 46.4 and 47.3 per cent respectively. So-called “”soft”” or interpersonal skills received fairly high ratings, with respondents describing teamwork (69 per cent) and oral communication (65.4 per cent) as critical to their jobs.

“”IT workers don’t think financial skills are important,”” said Vaillancourt, noting that only 8.6 per cent identified it, “”and yet I hear about all these projects going over budget.””

SHRC president Paul Swinwood said he hopes the data from the National Study will help clarify some of the misunderstandings about the IT labour force. The organization plans to release the data in a series of five independent reports, but the long-term plan is to use the initial results as the foundation for a Web-based data collection system. The SHRC would then poll users and automatically update the information in its database.

Swinwood said the SHRC struggles to provide more up-to-date labour force statistics while ensuring the data is of high quality. “”It’s not something you can do on a Monday and then release on Tuesday,”” he said.

The results showed some unexpected results in terms of education, with 85 per cent of employee survey respondents describing themselves as self-taught. The employer survey, meanwhile, cited lack of experienced talent as the biggest hiring challenge, something Vaillancourt said would not be easily addressed.

“”Hopefully (these statistics) will be useful to employers who are wondering why their expectations are not being met,”” said Faye West, SHRC chair and the manager of information systems for the Alberta Research Council.

Later this month, Swinwood said the SHRC would be working with Microsoft and Cisco to host a meeting of deans at IT training schools to discuss improving curriculum. The organization is also reaching out to post-secondary institutions to address the disparity between what’s being taught and what the marketplace expects.

“”We’re beyond the point where being the best ASICs coder in the world will get you a job,”” he said.

The National Survey of IT Occupations did not address the impact of offshore outsourcing, but Swinwood said the SHRC was working with CGI, EDS and others to look at the issue in more detail.

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