Is there an IT labour shortage?

Despite glaring statistics and industry studies on the increasing demand for IT skills and the looming shortage of available talent, some IT professionals remain unconvinced.

“The local K-W Record newspaper ran a story claiming that there were over 2,000 unfilled IT jobs in Waterloo Region, but in the same issue there were absolutely no IT jobs posted in the classified (ads),” notes Jeff Smith, an IT professional currently working for a computer consultancy firm in Waterloo, Ont.

Smith just completed his Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) training at TriOS College in Kitchener, Ont. in May, but has previously worked in IT for over 20 years with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Western Ontario (UWO).

Two decades of IT experience, an MCSE certification, and the high demand for IT skills, however, did not make his search for work an easy task.

“The biggest challenge during my job hunt was getting noticed over the crowd of other IT professionals,” Smith says. “The job requirements were usually reasonable considering the position; however, a few companies had ridiculous requirements for low-end positions,” he says, referring to some job posts that require knowledge in numerous programming and database languages for one position.

It’s not uncommon, however, for an IT professional to have such a long list of credentials, says Mark Stevenson, director of national resourcing at Toronto-based IT recruitment firm CNC Global Limited.

“Sometimes, these postings may not be reasonable according to the individual applying to it, but it may be reasonable to someone else,” he says. Despite the high demand for IT skills, employers today are more discerning and better equipped when it comes to hiring only the right candidate, thanks to a large pool of resumés available on the market today, Stevenson says.

Because of this, employers are typically unwilling to settle with anything less than a 90 per cent match and would most likely opt to wait for the right candidate than choose the lesser qualified applicant, he adds.

With the mindset of hiring only experienced talents, new IT graduates are consequently left at a disadvantage. “Companies seem to be totally unwilling to spend money on training people,” comments Richard Dinning, a retired IT professional who mentors IT students at Atkinson College York University in Toronto.

“The excuse (of the companies) is that if they train people, they leave. But if you pay them enough, train them and treat them well, then they won’t want to leave,” Dinning adds.

Dinning encourages his IT proteges to take up business courses and hone their communication skills to increase their viability in the job market.

CNC’s Stevenson says today’s employers prefer more business-savvy IT professionals and that educational institutions have a role to play in this shifting trend. Some Canadian educational institutions are already addressing this need. UWO, for instance, is constantly talking with industry to gauge the market needs, says Michael Katchabaw, a professor at UWO’s Department of Computer Science.

“A lot of the soft skills (that employers look for) we’ve been integrating into our program for quite some time so our students are usually reasonably well-equipped that way when they graduate,” Katchabaw says, adding that most of his students have been successful in finding employment after graduation.

Both industry and educational institutions have a role to play to close the gap, says Katchabaw.

Potential employees should actively communicate to the schools the kind of skills they are looking for, and schools need to respond by arming their students with the necessary knowledge and skills to compete in the labour market, he adds.

IT professionals also have a role to play by ensuring that they take the extra effort of updating their skills – both technical and soft skills – according to market needs, says CNC’s Stevenson.

Internship programs can give recent graduates the experience and hands-on training many employers look for, says Donna Smith, a vice-president at Career Edge, a not-for-profit Canadian organization that connects recent graduates with prospective employers through internship programs.

“They want new talent. They (want) to try to use this (program) as a retention strategy,” Smith says of the various organizations that have partnered with Career Edge, including Bell Canada, Telus, Rogers, and TD Canada.

Shawn Prosper, 29, will be completing his network engineering course at TriOS College this month. He knows the job hunt ahead will be challenging and only hopes that he’ll be given a chance to “show my stuff.”

“I worked beyond hard to get the jobs that I’ve found in IT, and knowing how hard it was to get a bench tech job, it leaves me wondering how it will be when I am done (with the course),” says Prosper.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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