Maintaining Canada's ICT Competitiveness

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Submitted by Randstad Canada 2010–07–13 11:45:49 EDT
Theme(s): Building Digital Skills, Growing the ICT Industry

Summary

This proposal is submitted in response to the government's consultation paper entitled "Improving Canada's Digital Advantage, Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity…, cited above. It represents the official response of Randstad Canada, the country's largest staffing agency and a leading supplier of ICT staffing services to organizations in the public and private sector.

This proposal contains Randstad's perspective on Canada's ICT competitiveness. Our position is simple: Canada's advantage lies in its ability to produce highly qualified ICT workers, while attracting Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) from virtually every corner of the globe.

However, this competitive advantage is being threatened, as aging Canadians retire and young Canadians and women avoid careers in this important field. At the same time, the role of ICT is changing and Canada is not adequately focused on the development of new and emerging skills. Finally, our analytical tools currently lack the maturity to identify key areas of opportunity and track talent migration within ICT and other sectors of the economy.

Our proposal focuses on three recommendations: 1) the improvement of labour market analytics; 2) the development of emerging ICT skills through appropriate education and retraining programs and; 3) the expansion of programs designed to increase the ICT labour supply in response to specific skills shortages and forecasted requirements.

At Randstad, we support the government's initial efforts and appreciate the consultative approach that has been put in place. We are convinced that these measures represent an important step in the development of a coordinated strategy for the improvement of Canada's global advantage in ICT.


Submission

Introduction

The continued success of Canada's ICT sector requires a coordinated talent strategy
Randstad Canada, the country's largest staffing agency and a leading supplier of technology staffing services sees Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as an important opportunity for growth and economic development.

In 2009, the ICT sector generated $155 billion in revenue and employed more than 800,000 people.1 The Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills (CCICT) has pointed out that today "more Canadians work in the ICT sector than in agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas, utilities,…and [the] transportation industry (including automobile manufacturing), combined".

In the past, Canada's competitive advantage in ICT advantage has stemmed from the ability to produce highly qualified ICT workers, while attracting Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) from around the world. As a result, we have developed a world–wide reputation for talent diversity and have built centres of ICT excellence in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.

In spite of our past success, we now face critical "skills shortages"
Over the past decade, Randstad Canada has seen a marked decline in the availability of senior and specialized ICT skills, a situation that will worsen as more Canadians retire, and young people and women continue to avoid careers in the ICT.

Even today, in the wake of the recent recession, Canadian organizations contend with ongoing "skills shortages" that affect high–level roles disproportionately and impede the development of ICT initiatives across the country. In fact, according to the Branham Group, decisions to offshore Canadian ICT projects are driven as much by the availability of talent, as by the desire to reduce costs.

Randstad Canada is working with government, business partners and educators
In order to address these issues, and promote the expansion of Canada's ICT sector, Randstad has engaged with many organizations in the public and private sectors. For example:

  • We are a long–standing member of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), generally regarded as the country's leading voice in the ICT sector.
  • We are a founding member of the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills (CCICT), a leading cross–sectoral association addressing Canada's critical ICT skills shortage.
  • We are a supporter of the Information Communication Technology Council, both financially and in terms of program development.

Over the past few years, we have worked with these organizations to create a unified voice for the ICT sector. We share a commitment to helping young people understand the nature and extent of opportunities in ICT and we continue to address issues such as gender imbalance, the integration of Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) and the expansion of ICT–related education and retraining.

We encourage the government of Canada to support the programs currently being proposed by our partners in ITAC, CCICT and ICTC. We also ask that the government pay particular attention to three key recommendations, namely: 1) the improvement of labour market analytics; 2) the development of key ICT skills through appropriate education and retraining programs and; 3) the expansion of programs designed to increase the ICT labour supply in response to specific skills shortages and forecasted requirements. The remainder of our submission focuses on these issues and provides specific recommendations.

Recommendations

1) The improvement of labour market analytics

According to research conducted by ICTC, 59 per cent of Canadians in ICT roles actually work in the ICT sector. The rest are employed as ICT specialists in non–ICT organizations.

This second group has increased steadily over the past decade, as more organizations have relied on ICT to create a competitive advantage. However, this group is not accurately reflected in current statistics, which have limited application and are based on out–of–date industry codes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the failings of our labour market research. While some important work has been completed, it is restricted to a handful of occupations. It provides national growth rates, but no information on total employment. It does not break down employment by industry sector, region and gender, nor does it track IEPs by occupation and sector, or provide ready access to enrolments in post–secondary ICT programs. Finally, and most significantly, it lacks a complete analysis of supply and demand gaps by occupation and sector.

Recommendation: Canada requires a consistent and reliable approach to the analysis of the ICT labour market. This will become more important as we address the growing needs of employers and potential investors.

2) The development of key ICT skills through targeted education programs

Over the past decade, we have witnessed the evolution of ICT employment opportunities. Traditional jobs in areas such as low–level programming have become increasingly commoditized and easily transferred to offshore jurisdictions, while more sophisticated skill sets such as project management and business systems analysis have become localized.

This evolution has created two categories of IT workers in Canada: those who are unemployed, or in danger of losing their jobs because their skills no longer match the needs of today's employers, and those whose leadership skills and advanced education enable them to take on exciting 21st century careers, the kind that offer valuable economic benefits.

In addition, employers are looking for ICT workers with a wide range of hybrid skills. For managers, this means a combination of technical and business skills (and often a business degree). For high–level technologists, this means combining ICT skills from various technical disciplines, such as bio–informatics, game design, media, smart power, analytics, forensics, actuarial applications, etc. Many employers also prefer ICT workers with highly specialized industry knowledge and experience.

The CCICT suggests that we view these emerging skill sets in the context of two main job categories: "business professionals" and "specialized technologists". Business professionals have the skills to lead ICT initiatives (the ICTC has forecasts that Canada will require approximately 65,000 of these ICT leaders over the next 6 years), while specialized technologists operate at the leading edge of innovation in areas such as "product innovation, digital media, healthcare and medical research, green infrastructure and automotive design".2

Whether we use this categorization, or choose another, it is clear that ICT roles are evolving fast and our view of them must evolve as well. It is critical that we identify "in–demand" skills and put our support behind their development. As the CCICT points out in its submission, failure to do so will limit the development of many key sectors in the Canadian economy, including "health informatics, power network informatics, intelligent vehicles and transportation systems, advanced manufacturing, digital media and mobile technologies and applications".3

To address these needs, the CCICT has launched the Digital Jobs of Tomorrow Project, a multi–faceted program designed to increase awareness of employment opportunities in ICT and encourage greater participation from high school students. This initiative involves a partnership with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the governments of Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and other provinces, and leading industry organizations including the Information & Communications Technology Council, TechnoCompétences, the Information Technology Association of Canada, and the Canadian Information Processing Society.

As a member of ITAC, the CCICT and the ICTC, Randstad is an active participant in this initiative.

Recommendation: In the area of skills development, we support the recommendation of the CCICT that "government policies and programs, including labour market research, post–secondary education and research investments, and public communications should focus increasingly on building Canada's pool of senior–level ICT skills, especially business professionals with the ability to lead ICT initiatives and specialized technologists".

3) The expansion of programs designed to increase the ICT labour supply in response to specific skills shortages and forecasted requirements.

More than 30% of Canada's ICT workforce is over 45 years old. During the last decade, the number of ICT workers in the 25–34 age range dropped nearly 10%. At the same time, enrolments in post–secondary ICT programs have declined by as much as 40% and the participation rate of women in ICT has declined to 27%. If Canada is to expand its competitive advantage in ICT, we must foster a renewed interest in ICT careers and reignite critical programs.

High school awareness programs

Randstad Canada, has worked closely with government agencies, the private sector and secondary schools to encourage young people to look seriously at ICT careers.

In the process, we have created successful ICT awareness campaigns in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, where we have produced information seminars for high school students. We have also worked closely with teachers and business leaders to develop high–school programs with integrated ICT courses that address the evolving needs of Canada's employers.

While the feedback on these programs has been positive, we still contend with inaccurate perceptions of ICT. This is especially true among those who are most likely to impact career decisions, such as parents and high school guidance councillors. More effort is required across government, business and schools to combat these misperceptions and help our young people to truly understand the range of opportunities in ICT today.

Post secondary ICT programs

Randstad Canada also works with business partners and post–secondary institutions to develop ICT training programs that provide "hybrid" educational opportunities at the post–secondary level. One example is Ryerson's Business Technology Management (BTM) program. This program provides an accredited undergraduate university degree in business and technology. Over 90 per cent of successful graduates find work as business technology managers, business analysts, project managers, change management managers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and IT managers.

According to the CCICT, "Canadian organizations employ well over 200,000 people with this profile, which represents the fastest growing segment of ICT and the one most likely to experience skills shortages. In addition, employers are often dissatisfied with the quality of skills available in the marketplace for these strategically critical occupations.

This initiative has strong and growing support, and is already being adopted by many university business faculties such as Wilfred Laurier and University of Waterloo, UBC, Simon Fraser, the University of Calgary, the University of Western Ontario, York University, UQAM, Concordia, Laval, and St. Mary's.

Women and ICT

Members of visible minorities represent 26% of ICT occupations, but only 15% of the national labour force, suggesting that diversity is alive and well in ICT. However, aboriginals and women remain under–represented.

According to Statistics Canada data, female participation in ICT has recently increased to 27 per cent, which is still much worse than other scientific and technical fields, including life sciences and mathematics. At the same time, the percentage of computer science degrees granted to women is lower than ever, at 14%. This imbalance in qualified ICT graduates means that women are under–represented at all levels of digital literacy and therefore, also under–represented as decision makers in Canada's digital economy.

At Randstad, we treat this issue seriously. We consider it a top priority to inform young women (and those who influence them, such as parents and careers councillors) about the opportunities that exist in ICT.

Also, as member of ITAC's Talent Committee, Randstad has worked extensively with senior–level stakeholders in Canada's ICT industry to encourage increased female participation in ICT. Many of Randstad's senior managers and staff participate in these initiatives, such as classroom presentations, and have agreed to be role models for young women interested in ICT career opportunities.

Internationally Educated Professionals

According to unpublished Census data provided to the Information and Communications Technology Council, in 2006 IEPs represented between 20–24 per cent of those employed in ICT engineering occupations.4 This is better than the 20 per cent participation of immigrants in Canada's overall labour market, but masks an important fact that IEPs represent only 10–12 per cent of critical, "in demand" managers, analysts and consultants (those with technology, business and management skills).5 These occupations typically require fluent command of at least one official language and in–depth knowledge of Canada's business environment. Workers in other countries do not always possess this combination of competencies and when they do, they tend to be in high demand in the global talent market.

Therefore, it is critical that we revisit programs that currently attract Internationally Educated Professionals, ensure that these programs target workers with a combination of senior technical and communication skills (as well as those who are most likely to acquire them) and enhance intake programs to ensure that these workers are quickly integrated into the Canadian workplace. This approach would have the highest likelihood of success if designed and implemented in partnership with representatives of Canada's business community.

As a global staffing company with offices in 54 countries, Randstad is in a position to assist with the aggregation of data and has worked with partners in ITAC, CCICT, ICTC and others to help provide this international perspective.

Randstad Canada is currently engaged in outreach programs with ethnic communities across Canada to provide IEPs with an understanding of the state of Canada's ICT labour market including fair rates, educational requirements, communications requirements and in–demand skills. In addition, Randstad Canada is a primary supporter of programs (e.g. "Sky's the Limit") that provide computers and training to new Canadians in order to increase digital literacy and facilitate the job hunting process.

International students

One area of largely untapped potential is international students. Canadian companies can do more to attract these students — especially female students — to a variety of digital economy careers and provide incentives for them to remain in the country once their education is completed. In April 2010, the Ontario government announced an initiative designed to achieve these objectives, which included a plan to add 20,000 university seats and target 50 per cent growth in the number of foreign students.

Recommendation: To meet future demand for digital economy skills, the top priority should be to increase participation by Canadian–based career entrants. This means a primary focus on high school students and young women, with an emphasis on the new, exciting, and cutting edge hybrid careers of the 21st century. A second priority should be to attract and integrate immigrants with specifically needed knowledge, skills and abilities, into suitable jobs, in a focused and disciplined way. Third, we should increase the number of post–secondary program seats, in part filled by international students whom we incent to remain in Canada.
Retraining programs

We concur with the government that "… the ability of Canadian businesses to innovate and position themselves along the global value chain will depend heavily on having access to workers with the appropriate skills." We also agree with the consultation paper in general concerning the need to "strengthen opportunities for continuing professional development of ICT workers currently in the workforce."

However, it is equally important that ICT retraining programs are realistic. Over the past few years, Randstad Canada has seen the demand for Architects, Project Managers and Business Analysts increase by an average 20% (and as much as 50% in some areas), at the same time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for ICT workers with vertical industry experience (e.g. Financial Services now represents over 20% of all IT requirements nationally and 30% in the GTA). Given this shift in the Canadian ICT labour market, Randstad Canada believes that retaining requires careful management. While opportunities for enhancing digital literacy are widespread, opportunities to retrain workers for highly–specialized ICT careers could prove to be less successful.

Randstad Canada believes that retraining programs will need to be highly focussed on moving ICT workers up to higher levels of the digital literacy continuum or focussed on niche or vertical skills acquisition.

For example, Randstad Canada has worked with post–secondary institutions and business partners to retrain ICT workers in mid–career to assume roles in mainframe operations. Many of these technologies are old and being phased out — so they are no longer attractive to people starting out, but represent an ideal opportunity for some workers.

Conclusion

As one of the leading providers of ICT staffing solutions in Canada — with a history of working with some of the largest private and public sector organizations in the country for three decades — Randstad Canada is in a unique position to provide "frontline" expertise on issues related to the development of talent for the digital economy.

Our corporate approach to encouraging the development of digital literacy among Canada's ICT labour market includes several initiatives, described above: 1) attracting young people to programs that expand digital literacy and encourage advanced careers in ICT; 2) increasing the number of women (and minorities) currently in ICT and related programs; 3) improving the selection and integration of Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) and; 4) creating targeted retraining programs. These strategic objectives align with the aims of our partners in ITAC, CCICT, ICTC and others.

In this paper, Randstad has recommended several initiatives under the broad categories of 1) improving labour market analysis; 2) focusing on key "in–demand" skills and 3) expanding and improving on the channels used to attract new talent and build a digital workforce. These initiatives include:

  • improved labour market analytics, to assist with the creation of a comprehensive talent strategy;
  • a renewed focus on senior–level ICT skills, especially those referred to as "business professionals" and "senor technologists", with skills across multiple disciplines;
  • programs to attract more young people and women to careers in ICT, in order to broaden our talent pool;
  • improved targeting and integration of Internationally Educated Professionals;
  • improved incentives designed to attract international students and keep them in Canada once they have completed their education;
  • improved retraining programs, which differentiate between expanding digital literacy (widespread application) and building a talent pool of senior ICT professionals (targeted applications).

We believe that Canada can continue to be a world leader in the ICT field, provided we chose the right strategy. We look forward to working closely with the government and our partners in education and business to make this a reality.

About Randstad Canada

Randstad Interim Inc. (Randstad Canada) is a wholly–owned subsidiary of Randstad Holding NV, a Dutch–based staffing firm, the second largest staffing company in the world with annual revenues in excess of $27 billion and offices across Europe, North America and Asia. Randstad Canada operates divisions that provide staffing services in the areas of general labour, IT, engineering, and professional services as well as HR consulting and vendor management. Our Canadian operations comprise approximately 600 Staffing Specialists & support staff in 56 branches across the country. In 2009, Randstad put over 25,700 contractors to work and made over 3,700 permanent placements. Randstad's mission is to establish industry leadership in matching demand and supply in the employment market.

For more information, visit Randstad Website


1 See CCICT website.

2 CCICT submission

3 CCICT submission

4 IEPs were 23.9% of electrical and electronics engineers (C033), 22.3% of software engineers and designers (C073), and 20.4% of computer engineers and designers (except software engineers) (C047), per a special tabulation of the 2006 Census.

5 10.1% of managers (A122), 12.9% of IS analysts and consultants (C071) per the 2006 Census tabulation.

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