Canada can’t cope with IT skills shortage

There’s more need than ever to nurture homegrown tech talent as the skills crunch worsens, hi-tech employers have to import workers from overseas and their best talent heads to the U.S.

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Technology is moving faster than training in Canada and that’s hurting IT workers and the companies that hire them.

It’s not that Canadian IT employers aren’t creatively trying to cope with the skills shortage. According to the latest IT jobs report from Hays Canada, many are focusing on compensation; of the 350 Canadian IT employers surveyed, 81 per cent have boosted compensation in the past year and 79 per cent expect to do so again in the next six to 12 months.

They’re also looking for talent far and wide, literally.

“(Canadian) IT employers are more likely to hire internationally than other sectors and functions,” the Hays report states. “Thirty-four per cent more IT hiring managers say they hired internationally last year than employers overall. They are also more likely to be hiring from overseas in the next 12 months — 30 per cent, about a third more than the 23 per cent in the overall (hiring pool).”

Hays predicts Canada could welcome even more foreign IT workers since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. “Following the Brexit vote we have also seen an increase in the number of U.K. candidates investigating Canada as a career option,” the study notes.

On the flip side, Hays says Canada’s top homegrown tech talent is being wooed south of the border by the strong greenback.

“We are also seeing an increase in the number of skilled Canadians moving to the U.S. due to the high (American) dollar and extensive opportunities, which will increase demand for talent here (in Canada).”

The so-called offshoring and nearshoring of tech talent is already well underway. Hays reports that 22 per cent of Canadian companies in its survey have their IT functions based in multiple international locations; another 11 per cent have theirs based in the U.S.

So Canadian IT employers are already short of talent. They have to keep boosting salaries. Or import workers from overseas. And their best Canadian talent is heading to the U.S. Not exactly fun times for Canada’s tech sector managers and recruiters.

Hays warns the skills crunch may worsen, forcing Canadian firms to relocate even more tech positions outside of this country.

“It is a shrinking world and growing interest in moving some functions offshore could affect IT recruitment in the near future,” Hays cautions.

I bear no grudge against the fine men and women who come to work in IT from abroad, it being a global village and all that. But wouldn’t it help if Canada did a better job of producing its own domestic IT talent?

The Canadian IT hiring managers surveyed by Hays say “the lack of training and professional development is the main cause of the skill shortage.” I heard the same complaint when new federal innovation minister Navdeep Bains met recently with a group of young Canadian entrepreneurs.

College and university grads are “not able to transfer what they learned (in school) into employment. The connection to employment doesn’t seem to be there. There’s a lot of disenchantment with the value of a degree,” Heather Payne told the gathering.

Payne co-founded Ladies Learning Code, a non-profit organization providing coding workshops in about 30 Canadian cities. She said many post-secondary grads enroll at Ladies Learning Code to pick up highly sought-after job skills they didn’t get in college or university.

On top of all this, many employers now want IT workers to acquire marketing, project management and other business skills. If companies can’t find enough candidates with the technical skills they need, how will they manage to land ones with business acumen to boot?

During his roundtable meeting with Payne and other entrepreneurs, Bains said his government is considering special immigration visas to bring foreign C-suite tech talent to Canada faster, specifically to mentor startups and fill some of the IT skills gap at the management level.

We’ll have to wait until spring to see if that pans out in the federal budget. What I’d really like to see, though, is more action aimed at growing the right IT skills, right here in Canada.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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