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Tech skills crisis looms

(Metro, Thursday, Jan.19, 2006, page 12)

Students look to other fields amid perceived slump. The Canadian high-tech sector may be in full recovery but a serious skills crisis looms unless more students, parents and high-school guidance counsellors shed the perception that information technology jobs are in short supply, two industry groups are warning.

"There is a dichotomy at the moment in what kids are being told and what's needed and that's creating a (skills) shortage and a problem that will emerge", says Bernard Courtois, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Association of Canada. He says many students are being dissuaded from entering computer related programs while employment in the sector grows at a rate not seen since the dot-com boom.

Statistics Canada reports nearly 13,000 new jobs were created in the computer and telecommunications sector in 2005 for a total of 597,000. It's not as high as the 664,200 jobs reached at the peak year of 2001 but it's the first gain in four years. That excludes IT jobs in banks, retailers and other sectors, where demand for skilled workers who can implement and manage IT systems may be growing faster than the domestic market will be able to handle.

The Software Human Resource Council (SHRC), which has tracked labour in Canada's software sector since 1992, sees a similar trend. Paul Swinwood, SHRC's president and CEO says the situation is especially worrisome with many IT workers set to retire in the next few years. In the federal government alone, 40% of IT staff will be eligible for retirement in 2008, he adds. "How is that gap going to be filled?"