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Looming IT Skills Shortage

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I participated in a survey and two focus group sessions sponsored by the SHRC and CATA. My lasting impressions: there’s a “right” skills shortage now and insufficient numbers to meet our future demands around 2010. This is a serious situation since Canada lags in productivity and this is attributable to lower ICT penetration in businesses supported by qualified IS workers.

What do I mean by the “right” skills? There is no question, there are unemployed IT workers. The key here is that businesses are looking for IT professionals with multiple deep skills sets combined with relationship, communication, core process, industry acumen and solid business knowledge. The requirements have changed and this will become even more pronounced for the future. What are the colleges and universities doing about this? How about employers—are they providing the necessary skills development and training? What about internationally trained workers where assessing qualifications can be a challenge; cultural and language issues present added barriers?

It’s our responsibility to raise these issues and to seek solutions. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this or send me an e-mail at sibaraki@cips.ca.

Thank you,
Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P.

Comments
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  • I agree that Canada has an IT staff problem. I moved to Canada and started on the IT Career path in the Maritimes in the late 80's and early 90's.  After several years of learning, study, testing out on MS products and building a career I could not earn enough to keep my family comfortable.  I returned to the US and doubled my income in the very first position.

    I have gone on to several years of progressive experience in many technologies and ever larger corporate environments. I completed my Bachelor and earned a Master in Information Technology along the way.

    We would love to move back to Canada for social and political reasons but there just don't seem to be the same quality or quantity of opportunities that are offered in the US.

    If Canadian employeers really want to solve the IT staff problem they need to let folks like me know they take the staff shortage seriously.

  • These are good questions. Many of those working in technology are not looking ahead or planning for the future. Ultimately this will stall their careers. I see it all the time.

  • This post has generated a lot of e-mails to me so the topic resonates with you. To bridge the gap, we need more forums such as with Academia, Government, Corporations, and media. Roundtable discussions can get the parties talking about ways to address these issues. CIPS has hosted these across the country and more will be coming. I am in discussions with all of these sectors so your feedback is useful and I encourage more..

    Thank you,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Jockel,

    Thank you for your comment. There is a productivity gap between the US and Canada due to the lower ICT adoption in Canada. This creates more ready opportunities in the US. Businesses need to increase their use of technology to enable faster innovation, product/service delivery; lower operations costs; improve collaboration internally and with customers/suppliers/partners; drive productivity, and increase business agility.

    For job finding, one of the best ways is through networks. CIPS in particular has a powerful one. This list of Fellows, who are CIPS members provides examples:
    http://www.cips.ca/join/fellows/default.asp?load=fellows

    Thank you,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Teri,

    I see one of the biggest gaps with technical people is in the soft skills and this view is validated by conversations I have with many executives. So career plans should encompass this plus gaining more business acumen, and industry knowledge.

    Thank you,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Stephen, this is a global cyclical problem, and doesn't just happen to us poor "ITers". The only way to solve the problem in Canada, is the same way it has been solved in the UK, and is being solved in the US, and that is for the very people who are being hurt by this shortage, and will be hurt further is to take the problem seriously. There are many, many good IT professionals, with adequate professional abilities, but who do not have that all encompassing gong on the wall, The BSC or MBA or similar. They have been the mainstay of the industry, and have the sufficient skills both in the technical and most now in the managerial fields of IT, and yet time and time again they are passed over as "too old to train" or "too expensive". Neither of these beliefs are true. I havce found the IT professional most find "long in the tooth" are actually a greater bonus to a business than the young graduate, because most have lived through the era when, as a new industry, it was all bleeding edge. Most have learned from the experience of how to do things right. This lesson has not been learned yet by the graduates, and it is the older professional who can teach this. By employing the professional with experience, companies gain more than just an IT professional, they gain a mentor, a tutor, and a sage, and surely the higher "costs" justify such an employee. At the same time, the education of the younger IT people needs to align more with the industry as it is, and less of the history that is being taught at College. Degree course in IT shouldn't be talking about Windows 3.1, and Windows98. Nor should they be concentrating on Microsoft or Cisco products. These skills are fine for the expert in those fields, but business need more and more a well rounded person with skills in many fields, Windows, Unix, Linux, Mac-OSX, Mainframe, Communications and general networking techniques. They need to understand the risks as well as the benefits that IT can introduce to a company, and they need the communications skills that are relevant to the businesses they are going into. This cannot be taught really well in University or college, but with good mentoring, and a career path that doesn't lead to being thrown on the scrapheap upon attaing the age of 40+ business themselves can lead the way to removing the barriers to young people going into the IT industry, and solve their own problem in the meantime.

  • You guys are barking around the bush. Why don't you start something particular that generate long term results of having stable hiring path instead of making political statements. If we don’t see your commitment to IT future then why anybody would waste time for IT jobs. That is what happening here in Canada. Do we have a strong and effective mentoring program within CIPS? Five years ago after I get laid off from my first IT job I joined your so called mentors program to find a track to run and excel. Running after so much of individual executives, they had to give up because those people are busy and they did not have any plan to accommodate me but gave me lip services. Either you have to have a flexible working plan for them to mentor graduates or at least they should be able to find coop or intern projects after they satisfied with protégés. Otherwise it is a big joke while you are crying wolf about IT shortage and don't have commitment lend hand for juniors like us who made commitment to go to school and do volunteer works to get in to the market. After finishing two degrees in Canada and worked whatever I could get to experience IT, I still can’t land a junior position because Canadian employers are mostly want everything perfect and years of experience from students but not willing train students by as who they are. No wonder so many of my talented friends left IT and join oil path engineering or health care. Good luck for them they could invest another four years at universities and tech schools. If you can’t understand the long term reality then shame on you. While you are over the hill, please pay your compassion to juniors who struggle get in to market. Schools can not out put 100% of 4.0GPAs. Therefore please take them as who they are based on your satisfactory evaluation and train them for long term. Then everybody knows what you are trying to do. It gives you countless advantage for your future HR. If not, please do not come to these programs just to waste our time on the name of so-called networking. Those Canadian companies who don’t what to change their arrogant IT hiring practices may later jump in to stealing employees from each others as usually we see every where. CIPS should have a responsibility to educate companies and wake them up for the future of this aspect. So encourage them; recognize them. That is one of the reasons we pay membership fees and renew them annually. You guys are worry about future IT leadership but where is your leadership? Please don’t try to become another local tech school by chopping curriculums and introducing certificates and exams. We are sick of having all sorts of certifications flying around our heads. Instead you have a lot of way to certify them as ISPs.

  • David,  I’m not sure if our Blogs crossed but I find your points interesting.

    You have some very valid points, but you need to be more positive in the way you try to express them.  

    Unlike you, I’ve been in the industry for over 32 years.  I graduated from school but never went to University for a degree.  This does not mean that I have not had to learn every single day of my career to get where I am.  It is all too easy to criticize the system and the industry when things go wrong, but I’ve found the most positive way forward is to actually seek ways of improving it, by realizing its weaknesses and suggesting a strategy for improvement.  

    This is a political task in many cases, as people do not just jump to a conclusion being presented with a set of data, but tend to arrive at the decisions they make over a long period of time after many negotiations.

    I have spent some 26 years out of Canada working in the both the leading edge and mainstream sectors of the I.T. industry, and the lack of commitment to I.T. in Canada is I’m afraid very evident.  I.T. is not just the technology, but the whole infrastructure surrounding I.T.  This includes the correct recognition for employees, both current and future.  

    I have no doubt that a graduate who has just completed 4 or 8 years of study to obtain degress hurt when they are unable to obtain the work they were led to expect.  It is no less hurtfull than those are that feel they are being passed over for work after 20-30 years in the industry, and being called “over the hill” by juniors with far less experience.

    It is the corporate political system (i.e. the way in which companies operate) that seems to be the problem in Canada, and it is following the model that preceeded it in both Europe and the U.S.

    Companies in Canada do not seem to have a strategy for I.T. or the career progression of their employees.  By de-skilling existing employees, companies lose a breadth of company knowledge that cannot be instantly replaced by new hires.  As for the new hires, without these “over-the-hill” career specialists, who is going to provide you the mentoring you are requesting.

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss us older I.T people, we have a lot to offer, and by taking a negative approach, you run the risk of alienating yourself to a vast pool of knowledge that doesn’t exist in any University course.

    As for CIPS, although I am a new member, I do not believe it purports to be “another local tech school” but it does attempt to provide both employees and employers a standard by which people can be judged on their abilities, not just by the degree they have.  I have come across many, many graduates that have entered high up in the I.T chain with two or three degrees, but none related to the work they were carrying out.  I believe the certification process of the CIPS organization attempts to address this, not by introducing certificates and exams, but by identifying those professional I.T. people and certifying them as such, a certificate can mean as little of as much as the individual wants, industry certification is something completely different.

    When it comes to the CIPS mentoring program, I can’t comment, but did you approach the CIPS executives to explain the problem?  Also, what did you expect to gain from the mentoring program?  Do you have a strategy for your own development within the I.T. sector?  

    I am an executive officer of 3 companies, as well as providing freelance consultancy to many companies and groups.  I find that periodically I have less time for mentoring than others.  I too have to keep my skills up, and I have responsibilities to the companies I support, as well as my family.  I do however try to offer as much help as possible to anyone who is prepared to ask for it.  But those who offer mentoring are not oracles of all wisdom, and we cannot give you knowledge.  

    Much like that of a missile, as mentors, we can point you in the right direction, and offer course corrections to allow you to achieve your target. Unlike a missile, it is you who need to choose your target and then convey that concisely and eloquently to your mentors.  The propulsion system is all yours, if it runs out then the impetus to succeed dies with it.

    Also, don’t forget that mentors don’t have to be the highest level executive, you don’t climb a ladder by grabbing for the top rung.  If you are having problems getting a mentor at the executive level, try lower down the corporate ladder and closer to your immediate goals.

    Don’t forget, that CIPS in its stated goals is to provide I.T. professionals with a way to realize their abilities with guidance from the code of ethics and body of knowledge.  This is an evolutionary project, and has to move with the times.  CIPS is a voluntary body, and as such relies on its members for input and support.  By getting this input, and growing membership of professionally recognized people, we can gain the ear of both industry and the government.  Only then can we engender changes within the system.  It’s a slow process, but it can be made quicker by encouraging supportive, positive comment from all members on how to go forward.  This may seem like politics to you, and often time it is, but it is the way things get done in the current system, and you can’t change the system from without.

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