Skills shortage coming soon, according to CIPS, SHRC

VICTORIA – The Canadian IT industry could be facing a new round of skills shortages unless steps are taken to address the problem, attendees of the Canadian Information Processing Society’s Informatics 2006 conference were told.

Unlike previous skills shortages focused on technical skills, the current shortage will be in business-related IT occupations such as business analysts and directors of technical implementation.

“The other issue is IT complexity,” said Dave Nikolejsin, CIO of British Columbia in an interview after his keynote. “We need people with 15 to 20 years’ experience who truly understand business and IT, and we don’t have anybody in the pipeline.”

Nikolejsin says the problem is further compounded by the fact the public sector cannot offer competitive salaries. He is also concerned that young people in the B.C. area are being lured to gaming and the more creative Web side of the IT business, draining jobs from big business and government sectors.

Bruce Diemert, director of recruiting firm Robert Half International’s operations in Vancouver, confirmed there is a need for IT people with soft skills, specifically in communicating, writing and speaking. What CIOs are really looking for, however, is the ability to do team work and to bridge the gap between business and technology.

“There is no shortage of technical skills. You can source this from anywhere in the world,” he said. “But jobs such as business analysts and in areas like business intelligence are going begging.”

Paul Swinwood, president of the Software Human Resource Council, which tracks 27 IT job categories, said that renewed warnings of skills shortages are not surprising.

Given the overall industry slowdown, it is easy to get the wrong impression, he said. “The vendors have their own sad story, but when you talk about it from a professional point of view, you get a different picture.”

The current industry unemployment rate is only 1.8 per cent, he said. The SHRC is seeing particularly strong demand for IT professionals in the oil industry and in the digital content storage area.

While the total ICT industry looks like it is getting smaller, it is very close to getting back to its peak of 600,000 IT workers recorded in 2000 and 2001, he said.

John Boufford, vice-president of CIPS, said the industry faces a challenge in that many senior IT people with business backgrounds are retiring or leaving at a time when the industry really needs them.

He says the association is looking at a number of ways to bolster the profession, especially in the area of curriculum development.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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