../Morning Post
Posted April 6, 2011

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Employment

Tech labour crunch looming in Canada

TORONTO — Canada is facing a “systemic” technology labour shortage, a new study has found.

Companies will be looking to fill 106,000 new positions in the information and communications technology sector in the next five years, according to the study released Tuesday by the Information and Communications Technology Council. That may be good news for a recovering economy, were it not for a severe lack of qualified candidates to fill those positions.

As the sector returns to employment levels unseen since the tech boom of the early 2000s, the study said companies will be looking for applicants who are more than just “code-monkeys” but who also have a degree of business acumen and a diversity of skills. Women are also still severely underrepresented in the industry.

“We are quite comfortable in saying ‘ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem’,” said Paul Swinwood, chief executive of the Ottawa-based industry group.

With demand for ICT professionals growing, annual enrollment rates for Canadian software and computer engineering programs appear to have flattened in recent years. Meanwhile, immigration of foreign workers with relevant ICT training and experience has recently been in decline. As a result, the study warns of “serious and pervasive” recruitment challenges in the coming years, with shortages being most severe for positions requiring several years of experience.

“The people with 5 to 7 years experience just don’t exist anymore because we didn’t hire them 5 years ago,” said Mr. Swinwood. “The jobs have changed and the people that we need for them have changed.”

When the industry last peaked in 2001, the most sought after ICT workers were generally programmers who could be assigned to write specific pieces of software individually.

“But the skills in anticipation of what will be required going forward is certainly going to be different than it was 10 years ago,” said Evelyn Ledsham, global talent management leader at Open Text Corp. With about 1,200 Canada-based employees, Waterloo, Ontario-based Open Text is the country’s largest software company.

“In the past, people might have only looked for what I would call very silent functional skills, but in today’s marketplace that is just not going to be enough anymore and so many of us have to have the ability to adapt and be flexible,” Ms. Ledsham said.

That flexibility will require gaining expertise in other domains such as e-health, e-finance and digital media, the study said. Unlike the previous tech boom, which was virtually exclusive to tech-focused companies, the one fast approaching will have its tentacles across the economy.

“This time around, it is the growth of the economy and the growth of information technology in the economy, and the employment is everywhere,” said Mr. Swinwood. “It is with Canadian Tire, it is with Canadian National, with CGI and Microsoft. All of Microsoft’s value-added resellers, the little fires as we know them out there, are just dying for people.”

Eric Gales, president of Microsoft Corp.’s Canadian division, said the software giant has long been aware of the limited talent pool in Canada and has been actively working to expand its outreach.

“There are not enough graduates entering our sector, that is a problem,” he said. “There are also not enough immigrants coming in with the right skills and there is going to be a battle if you like for the skilled professionals in the marketplace [for companies] to be an attractive destination for them,” he said.

Expanding recruitment to more diverse groups is one of several ways to close the gap recommended by the study. It notes that women in particular make up only 25% of all Canadian ICT employees, a figure which declined as recently as January.

“This gender imbalance limits the pool of workers industry can recruit from and compounds the skills shortage in Canada,” the report said, also noting that Aboriginal and First Nations people are under-utilized as ICT workers.

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