../Morning Post
Posted March 17 , 2010
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Skills Shortage

Canada's IT skills shortage likely to get worse, experts say

Toronto - Despite the recent recession, Canada faces a shortage of skilled IT talent and the situation is only going to get worse, experts say. The skilled labour crunch is afflicting other sectors as well and radical remedies are needed to address it.

The perennial shortage of IT talent we've witnessed over the past few years is likely to intensify even further, experts say.

A radical mindset shift is required of hiring managers as well new graduates entering the workforce, they say. They also urge organizations to look very closely at their work environment and implement far-reaching changes to attract and retain new talent.

"When it comes to skilled labour, the IT sector has always faced a greater challenge than other professions," notes Terri Joosten, CEO of CareerDoor Inc.

The Toronto firm helps employers attract and hire hi-tech professionals using various channels -- online, print and face-to-face. To this end, over the years, it has organized several career fairs.

Organizations getting "picky" Joosten points to a definite shift in expectations on the part of employers, as well as recent IT grads entering the workforce.

"Many of these new graduates are averse to doing hands on work -- programming, tech support and so on. They have this notion that having got their degree from the University of Waterloo, they can walk into CIO-type positions. They don't want to be the doers, but the ones telling people what to do."

On the other hand, she said, organizations have also become over-picky about whom they are willing to hire. "Many insist on getting 100 per cent of what they want from a potential hire -- and then some more."

Such fastidiousness, the Career Door CEO said, often causes hiring managers to exclude people who lack Canadian experience -- such as recent immigrants -- from consideration, though the latter might have all the required qualifications and expertise.

"The result is there's a lot of unutilized or underutilized IT immigrant talent in Canada. Qualified immigrants end up working in non-skilled jobs just because lack Canadian experience."

When these immigrants find they can't get jobs in keeping with their skills and training they spread the word back home, and this deters other skilled tech professionals in the countries that they left from moving to Canada. "They won't come here because they don't want the same thing to happen to them."

Joosten said before spending more money trying to entice even more qualified immigrants to come to Canada, we need to encourage employers to hire folk who are already here and have the needed skills.

In the case of senior IT roles -- architects, business analysts, project managers -- they're still very hard to come by. There's no dearth of applicants for these positions, Joosten noted. "But when you consider whether they have what it takes to do the job effectively, it's a different story."

Of course, this situation is not peculiar to IT, she said. "The same would be true for an A-level player in any arena you're hiring for. There's just an overall lack of good talent out there."

One key reason for the overall labour crunch, according to another industry observer, is the growing disconnect between the number of older folk exiting the workforce and younger people entering it.

The challenge isn't just that "boomers are getting older and retiring, it's the undersupply of youth," noted Linda Duxbury, professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business. The wider issue, she said, is Canadian families are having fewer children. Duxbury was speaking at The Business of Ideas Forum organized by the Canadian Marketing Association in Toronto recently.

In Canada we need 2.1 children per family to keep our population stable, while the birth rate right now is 1.54, Duxbury noted. "The last time we nailed that 2.1 number was in 1969."

She said today the average age a Canadian enters the labour market, landing their first permanent job, is 25 years. "They finish high school, then take a year [before going to college or university]. The average student now takes five years to finish a four-year degree. They're in no rush."

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