Sunday, March 30, 2014

Labour shortage…. or is it just an unwillingness to pay the market rate?

During the negotiations leading up to the 2012 Collective Agreement AMAPCEO President, Gary Gannage told us during a town-hall that the Employer told the bargaining team that “Because of the down-sizing of RIM and other places we are going to be able to get IT folks at a dime a dozen. That’s what they said. I don’t agree with it, but that is what they said. Now that being said, there is no forecast that says that people will be red-circled for five years.  I don’t know how anyone gets that impression.  It is possible that there could be constrained for that period of time.  That being said we are back at bargaining in two years time and we’ll have to find out where things are going to lay at that point.”

Well that point is now.  RIM is still here, albeit a slimmer version, as are most ‘other places’.  Has anything really changed?  Despite the Employer’s disingenuous assertion IT folks are a dime a dozen IT folks are not a dime a dozen, in fact it is quite the opposite. While it may seem intuitive that the rapid growth of both consumer and business technology would make Information and Communications Technology (ICT) one of the most desirable fields for new job-market entrants, Industry Canada data shows that in 2011 the year before the last agreement was signed that the number of ICT workers as a percentage of the total workforce declined from 3.6% in 2002 to 3.3%.  Another research study released 2011 this time by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) projected an across-the-board increase in demand of 106,000 IT workers in Canada (or about 19%) between 2011 and 2016 with few new market entrants available to fill them.

The Canadian Business Education Partnership, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on key issues impacting career exploration and workforce development cites a 2011 study undertaken by them that indicates Canada will be confronting a shortage of information and communications technology labour over the next five years. The CBEP says that in Ontario, about 51,000 information and communication technologies jobs will need to be filled in the next five years.  Some dime.  Some dozen.

Moreover, in a press release dated October 28th, 2013, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) that the reality is that while the ICT industry’s unemployment rate is less than 3% their research shows that over 100,000 critical ICT jobs will need to be filled by 2016.  The report’s author John O’Grady of Prism Economics and Analysis, says too that declining enrolment in post-secondary programs and increased difficulty bringing temporary skilled workers to Canada, those employees will be difficult to find. 
 So now the Employer’s argument that IT folks are a dime a dozen is contradicted by both Industry Canada and empirical studies conducted by industry organisations, yet our Employer continues to pare down the number of internal IT positions. One really has to begin to wonder why.  Clearly the evidence would point towards an argument that IT folks are indeed a scarce resource that should be encouraged to stay within government.
But moving on, the shortage of skilled ICT professionals has not been lost on people such as Chris Alexander, Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who in September of 2013 while speaking to attendees at a National Bank of Canada event conveyed his concerns about Canada’s labour shortage.  Alexander pressed business owners to communicate with the government and help raise awareness for the specific skills needed to sustain this country’s labour force.  “Skill shortages are literally on our doorsteps,” he warned. “Let’s not forget how competitive this [immigration] market is … the fierce competition for the most competent people.”  Yet our Employer denies that the reality of the skills shortage in the ICT sector and implies that there is a glut of talented ICT people in the market place - at least to us but to the voting public they are a little less disingenuous and recognize the need and admit to shortages.

As recently as February 19th our own Immigration and Citizenship Minister Michael Coteau said Ontario could set targets for attracting more skilled immigrants.  Couteau then goes on to say the changes would help Ontario lure experts in fields like information technology, where there are shortages, and run a larger program than the one that now brings 100,000 new residents annually.  “We’ve seen skilled immigrants choosing other jurisdictions and other provinces in North America because there are opportunities.” I guess that would happen when you chose not to pay them a fair market salary.

Stepping back two years, in a September 11, 2012 article in the Financial Post, Sharif  Faisal, chief economist for the ICTC  writes “All Employers are being very cautious about giving [pay] raises and holding onto their cash, but that’s not the case for ICT professionals,” “They’re constantly getting raises. They’re 3% higher [today] than what they were getting in January.”  Except of course where the salaries are frozen and if the Employer has their way will remain frozen for another four years.

This all makes me wonder what the real end game is. Is it simply cost cutting?  After all IT folks are amongst the highest paid in the provincial government and therefore an obvious target if you are a bean counter who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Or does this behavior over the last few years point to another scenario?  Perhaps one where the object is for government to get out of the business of employing full time IT folks with the endgame being to hand over the entire operation to third parties such as IBM, HP, or some other large IT outsourcer who will in turn outsource the work to a poorly paid, well educated, workforce in India.  Or is it simply short-sightedness brought on by a looming debt crisis caused on by spend thrift politicians out to garner votes at any cost.

If you are particularly interested in more important discussion about the shortage of skilled information and communication technology (ICT) workers in Canada (Industry Canada (2010) Improving Canada's Digital Advantage; IBM (2012) Fast Track to the Future; and Information and Communications Technology Council (2011), Outlook for Human Resources in the ICT Labour Market, 2011-2016).

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