Labour shortage could cripple Canada's tech industry: report
David George-Cosh, Financial Post
Published: Monday, January 21, 2008
Canada's technology companies will soon face a shortage of workers that could cripple the sector and deal a harsh blow to the Canadian economy, according to a report published by a coalition of industry professionals.
More than 90,000 jobs in the information technology sector will need to be filled in the next three to five years and could potentially impact the Canadian economy to the tune of $10.6-billion, said Conference Board of Canada vice-president of organizational effectiveness, Dr. Michael Bloom.
"The problem is much bigger than any of us at the Conference Board has identified," said Mr. Bloom.
A "perfect storm" of socio-demographic factors, negative perceptions of the tech sector following the bubble burst of 2002 and a significant drop in university enrolment in IT programs across Canada has all come together to create this dire scenario, said Mr. Bloom.
The Conference Board's report says that while more than 600,000 Canadians are employed in the IT sector, 31,000 of those will soon retire and another 58,000 will be needed to plug in forthcoming productivity gaps. Furthermore, the report found that each vacant position represents an average cost to the Canadian economy of $120,000 per year.
To combat that problem, more than three dozen companies that span the gamut of the technology industry have formed together under the "Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's IT Skills" moniker. Some of the companies include cable giant Rogers Communications Inc., Internet hardware maker Nortel Networks Corp., transportation manufacturer Bombardier Inc. and retailer Canadian Tire Corp.
"If you don't do anything about it, everyone [will] chase after the same talent," said Stéphane Boisvert, president of Bell Canada Inc.' enterprise group, who is leading the coalition group.
Some of the solutions the coalition intends on focusing on is marketing tech to high schools in hopes that more students will enroll in tech-specific post-secondary fields and convincing the federal government to loosen immigration regulations to easily allow more highly-educated workers to enter and work in Canada.
Still, any efforts to inject new blood into the sector won't happen overnight. According to Statistics Canada, tech employees earn 45% more than the average Canadian and any move to offer a higher premium to attract untapped workers may force companies to offshore their workforce, said Paul Swinwood, president and CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council.
Yesterday's announcement was only the beginning of what Mr. Boisvert hopes will convince industry and government officials to swiftly act to fix the alarming issue. Monte Solberg, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, has already been briefed on the report as well as members of the Ontario and Quebec governments.
"The government is waiting to see what the industry can absorb," said Mr. Boisvert. "[But] it's a mistake for us to wait for them. We need to act now."