It won’t always be easy finding IT workers

Employers shouldn't get too complacent about the current abundance of tech workers

Information technology workers may be more plentiful and their huge pay increases a thing of the past, but employers shouldn’t get too complacent, according to a recent report from the Software Human Resources Council.

If employers feel like they have the upper hand now, they should be careful not to become too comfortable because it is not that simple, said Paul Swinwood, president of SHRC.

This is a wake-up call for employers, he added. “When and if things turn around, people better have their strategies in place for the people they want to retain.”

Skilled IT workers will continue to be one of the most important factors for organizations looking to improve the business. Though it may be easy to fill most IT positions now, it is not universally the case, nor is there any guarantee widespread shortages won’t develop again, he said.

“Skill shortages still exist in many technical areas of the industry and upward pressure on these salary levels will continue to be evident until supply equals overall demand,” states the report IT/Software Salaries, False Sense of Complacency?

“The worldwide shortage for some of these skills was well-identified prior to the economic slowdown. These shortages have not significantly dissipated — they have merely been masked by general economic conditions.”

Still, today’s cooler IT recruiting environment does give employers more options than were once available, he said.

“In 1999 and 2000 all companies were looking for those skills and they wouldn’t even worry about the business skills,” he said. “They were taking anyone who could make a computer work.”

Now employers are able to pick and choose employees who are still highly skilled but also have a great deal of industry-specific knowledge.

The study of about 300 Canadian organizations found the majority of layoffs were in the telecom and related products and in the services sector, with employees in software relatively unscathed. Double-digit salary increases were the norm for IT and software workers at all levels into 2001. Most job streams received significantly smaller increases, though there were no decreases, in the last year. But salaries for highly technical skilled jobs continue to grow strongly despite the economic downturn.

Meanwhile, software development, and customization and embedded software experts remain very much in demand. Consequently these workers have enjoyed a 13 to 15 per-cent salary increase since 2001. That is almost triple what other sector salary increases were, said Swinwood.

After getting through Y2K by simply making adjustments to older systems, many organizations are looking at new enterprise software systems. “They are looking at technology as a lever to run their business rather than just an expense,” said Swinwood.

If an organization is just putting in a new system it won’t be a problem finding people to run the project. But if they want to customize the system, it will be much more difficult, he said.

“Customization experts are still really scarce. You want an Oracle customization expert? Lots of luck.”

The supply of experienced IT workers could be even smaller down the road because of current IT staffing practices, said Swinwood. A lot of programming work is being done offshore now because it is so much cheaper, he said. “This has many scary implications for jobs here in Canada. If you can’t get your first job developing software, how are you going to get a job that requires the 10 or 15 years’ experience that everyone is looking for?” he asked.

If the trend continues, Canadians may find themselves with little or no opportunity in this country. “I hate to say it but Canadians may have to go to work in some of these Third-World settings in order to get that programming experience.”

One of the other challenges for HR departments is figuring out exactly what skill sets they need for a position when they don’t have an expert grasp of the IT world. SHRC has created an occupational skills model with 24 distinct job streams so that all employers and all employees are on the same page when trying to match a candidate’s experience to an available position. “It gets everyone speaking the same language,” he said. For more on the Occupational Skills Profile Model visit the Software Human Resources Council Web site at

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