Wanted: 89,000 IT employees

At the Information and Communications Technology Council and the Information Technology Association of Canada‘s Labour Market Intelligence Day today, a handful of analysts discussed new research that further reveals the disconnect between IT employers and potential hires.

Employers want more well-rounded employees with soft skills and a flair for marketing the products they work on, and real-world experience. While these university graduates are in short supply, there is also a dearth of IT grads.

The lack of student interest is a definite hurdle to a robust IT market, said David Ticoll, CEO of the Toronto-based technology consulting firm Convergent Strategies and an expert panel chair with the Information and Communications Technology Council.

“I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that when guidance counselors hear ‘ICT,’ they just tune out,” he said. A survey of colleges conducted by Michael Robinson of the research firm Michael Robinson Campbell Consulting found that computer science and related IT disciplines were down six per cent over the last few years.

Wendy Cukier, the associate dean of Ryerson University‘s school of business, reported that there is a disconnect between the number of jobs and grads, with around 9,000 math, computer science, and information systems grads per year to fill the 89,000 new jobs (roughly 18,000 to 30,000 new jobs per year) that will crop up over the next three to five years.

Also contributing to the problem is a lack of preparation for the real world, according to Andrew Bisson, a director of planning and market analysis with Ottawa-based technology consulting firm the Branham Group. He said that IT employers want employees with soft skills, but these employees just aren’t getting them. “It’s a challenge when employers look for that combination of skill sets. We need to build co-op programs and internship programs to better prepare (university students) for the workforce,” said Bisson.

Ticoll believes that the way to bolster a lagging IT market would be for Canada to concentrate on nurturing and promoting four positions that Ticoll foresees as key IT jobs in the future. These include business/IT leaders (who boast soft, managerial and marketing skills), industry IT specialists (with vertical expertise), advanced computational technologists (who work on developing technologies like nanotechnology and bioinformatics), and “same time/same place” technicians (who can give hands-on help to users).

John O’Grady, a partner with the Toronto-based economics consulting firm Prism Economics, added that the fields of wireless technology, IP applications, and security are also big areas for job growth in the future. One trend that IT professionals should brush up on is customization work, as more and more companies are going with a customized generic solution instead of proprietary software, he said.

As if they don’t have enough on their plate, said Ticoll, IT professionals have to worry about the trends of offshoring and outsourcing, which, he said, has a lot of people wondering what is going to happen to the industry. Other factors hampering the industry are Canadian companies’ current lack of IT spending (as compared to the U.S.), the growth of offshoring, and a lack of student interest and women in the field.

But, John O’Grady said, the number of IT users and installed bases of IT systems and applications will increase over the next few years, resulting in more IT spending. The increase in investment spending by the IT industry and IT users, the increase in installed base of IT systems and applications, and retirements will result in 89,000 new hires over the next three to five years, said O’Grady.

A good way to fill these jobs is to hire more women and internationally educated professionals (IEP), according to Cukier. “If we do not take better advantage of our own labour force, in all its diversity, we will not be successful,” she said. “HR is the strategic issue for the early twenty-first century.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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