In response to a question about future growth in Canada’s economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said “[skills shortage] is in fact in my judgment the biggest challenge our country faces”. In a digital economy, it is hard to imagine a business or an industry where Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) are not involved. Therefore, in the ICT Sector, where talented people are driving innovations and are, indeed, the lifeblood of the sector growth, skills shortage will have an adverse impact on the country’s overall growth.
In an effort to frame the ICT labour shortage symptoms in Canada, I have researched the skills gap, identified existing and anticipated challenges and suggested solutions throughout my Major Research Paper (MRP) for my MBA at the Ted Rogers School of Management – Ryerson University. The purpose of the study was to answer key questions in the labour shortage issue, however, the main questions were: why has the labour shortage happened in the first place, how should we fix it and what should we do to avoid such a situation again?
The research was initially proposed by Dr. Ron Babin and sponsored by International Data Corporation (IDC) Canada. IDC is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.
Dr. Babin explains that, “we understand the importance of this problem from Ryerson’s participation in the Canadian Coalition for ICT Skills. As Canada’s largest business school, and largest Business Technology Management program, we are constantly under pressure to work with business to help our graduates develop relevant and current skills in the demanding field of ICT. This research by Atef further strengthens our understanding of the challenges in industry for ICT skilled workers.”
I wrote two papers for IDC that have been published between July and August 2013 (Canadian IT Labour Market: Skills Gap, Challenges and Solutions, Part 1 and Part 2 – IDC #CA1SSC13, #CA11SSC13 Volume 1). In the first paper, I defined the problem, whereas, in the second paper, I delved deeper into the talent shortage in the ICT sector, analyzed the causes of skill shortages and identified opportunities for remediation. The two papers were the essence of my MRP.
I have conducted the research based on the literature review concept and one-on-one interviews with selected leading ICT firms. I used the literature as a demand-supply market analytical approach and one-on-one interviews as a validation tool. I found many points of evidence that Canada’s ICT sector is suffering from a talent shortage in certain areas. The participants acknowledged this conclusion and summarized the challenges as: “finding the right skills, at the right time”, “hiring candidates with 5+ years of experience” and “finding a hire with IT skills as well as other domain knowledge and experience”
In terms of what causes this problem, the study identified five main reasons: the lack of up-to-date and detailed labour market information; the continuous and rapid growth in the ICT sector; declining enrolment in ICT-related undergraduate programs; Canada’s aging population and, finally, the government’s immigration policies.
In order to fix these issues, I urged the stakeholders to take actions in the following areas: Education, Diversity, Information and Immigration.
Canada’s education system should be improved to be more dynamic and agile in order to keep pace with the market demand. For example, education institutions should be able to develop and update curriculums quickly to teach new or niche technologies. A core part of the research findings indicate that educators and employers live in parallel and disconnected worlds and a major part of the solution is to bring those worlds together.
Interestingly, even though the majority of undergraduate students across Canada are females, this workforce segment is under-represented in the ICT sector. Therefore, increasing female enrolment in ICT-related post-secondary education should lead to better results than any other workforce segment.
The lack of systematic and frequent aggregation of detailed and up-to-date labour market information often leads to reactive responses and ties the stakeholders’ hands so they can’t be proactive. The government should increase its investment in labour market information. The government should increase direct consultation with the industry – the demand creators – and should have a consistent and reliable approach in analyzing the ICT workforce information.
A significant finding of my research is that Canada’s ICT sector growth will continue to rely heavily on sources of foreign-educated workers. Therefore, the country’s immigration policies should be regularly updated to be fast, agile and consistent with the market demand. The government should invest in speeding up landing talents in Canada, increase consultation with the private sector and create more incentives for international ICT students to stay permanently in the country after graduation.
My MRP was an excellent opportunity to utilize the skills that I gained during the course of my MBA study. I am confident that, after this unique experience, I am now in a better position to pursue a post-MBA position in the field of Information technology business management.
Atef Alqashqish has over 15 years’ experience working in the Information Technology industry. He has worked for an international organization in the capacity of IT Operation Manager. He will be graduating from the MBA MTI (Management of Technology and Innovation) program in the Fall of 2013.