Skills shortage 2.0: Canada’s search for IT talent

VICTORIA, B.C. – The Canadian IT industry could face a new round of skills shortages unless steps are taken to address the problem, attendees of CIPS Informatics 2006 conference were told last week.

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 the province of B.C. 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. “After we train these people, they can cross the street and get twice the money.”

He is concerned also 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 need for IT people with soft skills, specifically in communicating, writing and speaking. What CIOs are really looking for, however, is “how well you work in at team” and anyone who can “bridge the gap between business and technology.

“There is no shortage of technical skills. You get 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 different 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 and he is seeing particularly strong demand for IT professionals in the oil industry and “anything to do with the digital storage of content.”

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 the Canadian Information Processing Society (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.

At the conference, CIPS announced a revamping of its professional designation for IT workers called the Information Systems Professional (ISP) by making it available to academics, IT leaders and “experienced IT professionals” (those who have experience but not a traditional IT degree.) Previously, the three groups were not eligible for the designation.

CIPS also announced the creation of a Body of Knowledge and the revision of its Code of Ethics, which will be of great interest given increased awareness of governance and accountability, said Kerry Augustine, director of the IS Career Centre for Great West Life in Winnipeg.

Unlike the Y2K problem when the industry was being reactive, the profession wants to be ready in areas of current compliance laws, ethical behaviour and risk management, or, for that matter, “anywhere you are dealing with the unknown,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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