Talent Development Centre

All posts by Morley Surcon

The “ism” That Will Catch Us All… Eventually

The "ism" That Will Catch Us All… Eventually

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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As I work for a company that is considered diverse*, “isms” rankle. We are all familiar with sexism, racism, antisemitism, and ethnocentrism (there are many, many others as well!), but the one that I want to discuss in this post is Ageism — the systemic and systematic discrimination against persons of older age. Maybe it’s the result of my own aging, but I’ve been noticing this issue more and more over the past year or so. It is kind of a strange “ism” as it isn’t like many of the others where people who are not a certain way — and will never be that way — attempt to discriminate against others who are. With Ageism, although a person may not be older now, they will age like everyone else and will become part of this sub-group of society themselves someday. You would think that would give people pause and be a suitable deterrent in itself. Yet it happens… I’ve seen it and I’m sure you, my readers, have witnessed it too.

“1001 Old People Jokes” and tropes that include housecoats and fuzzy-slippers for elderly women and pants with belts riding high for the men. These can be fairly innocuous, and are often perpetrated by elderly people themselves as self-deprecating humor. But ageism turns more serious and, perhaps, even a little threatening when it results in questioning their ability to drive, making their own financial decisions, deciding where and how they want to live, and the sub-par level of care they may receive when it is time that they do need some help. Some of the COVID stories we’ve heard about what happens in retirement homes is shocking, disappointing and, frankly, disgusting.

One other version of age-ism is that older people can’t fathom technology. In our industry — Information Technology — this is particularly troubling. I’ve witnessed perfectly capable technology professionals passed over time and again for no other reason than their age: “they don’t fit into our culture”… “they may be looking to retire soon and we want someone who can commit over a longer period” … “not sure of their ability to keep up with the pace of work here…”.  All these “concerns” are rooted in stereotypes.

Older workers often bring experience that “youthful teams” may lack. They come from the generation where people often DID put down roots and stick with the same company for a longer term. Companies may actually enjoy better retention rates hiring older workers, despite their relative nearness to retirement. And people aren’t retiring as early if they love what they do! Pace of work is less a factor of age and more a result of individual motivation. Experience, as mentioned before, can more than compensate if in fact there is a slowing due to age. And age does not dictate a person’s technological acumen!  When one builds their career in IT, they pretty much have to commit themselves to life-long learning. As long as that commitment is there, people later in their careers are just as able to learn new technology as those in the beginning or in the middle of their careers.

But of course, we all know that.  Intellectually, we understand that this is so. Yet, I am surprised at how often ageism occurs. A US-based study (reviewing 40,000 resumes) stated that “The largest-ever study of age discrimination has found that employers regularly overlook middle-aged and old workers based only on their resumes” – and older women face even more discrimination than do older men. Instead of being actively sought-after, having much more experience than younger applicants is actually a detriment to being selected for a job. Older technical consultants and contractors struggle with this greatly. Despite COVID-19, the world is still supply-constrained when it comes to finding technically savvy workers. Many of these people found consistent contracting opportunities throughout their careers, even during the “slumps” that occurred in 2000 and 2008. Yet now that they are older, they struggle. They’ve never had more or better experience than they do today, they’ve never had a higher level of skills and knowledge, yet it is harder and harder to convince employers of this.

This is true: ageism happens. It is happening now. Here in Canada and around the world, it is a common occurrence.  And we all should be aware of this and actively fighting against it. After all, we’re all going to be there, ourselves, someday and wouldn’t it be nice if ageism was eradicated before we had to face its challenges?

* Eagle is WBE certified as a Women Owned/Managed Business. We have been recognized in “Canada’s Best Places to Work” for women and our workforce is made up of 75% visible minorities… including some of us older people 😉

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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How long does it take to form a new habit? I’ve read articles claiming a new habit is formed in as little as 21 days, some say 66 days, while others suggest it could take as much as 250 days for complex habits to form (for some people). Regardless, by the time COVID-19 accommodations fully become a thing of the past, a year or more will have gone by — far longer than even the most pessimistic estimates for habit forming. If you consider the changes you’ve made (and stuck to) in response to COVID, you will recognize some new habits you’ve formed. And, if these continue, by February/March they will feel pretty comfortable and you might be keeping the changes even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

One such change is remote work. Prior to COVID, the technology was there to support virtual teams, but few companies bought into this in any big way; often describing “culture” or process (Agile Scrums?) or fairness to office staff, or lack of control, or… or… or… as reasons not to go all-in on a remote work strategy. Over the past 7 months or so, most “knowledge-workers” have been forced to embrace working from home… and, guess what? Work still got done! Sure, in some cases, there was a transition period where people felt that the accommodations were going to be temporary or short term. But in general, work continued. Companies scrambled to ensure collaboration tools were available for their staff… HR kicked into overdrive to ensure people felt connected and supported. Fun stuff – remote happy-hour – team recipe sharing – virtual mentoring/teaching began popping up to bridge the person-to-person gaps. Introverts (including everyone in my own family) finally have their day in the sun! People began doing what people for millennia have done… they began coping, they made changes that enabled them to carry on and be productive.

And now, we’ve had a taste of remote work… and many really like it!  The majority of the people I’ve personally spoken with over the past weeks and months have been positive about the changes. No more fighting traffic in the mornings, more time for work AND for home chores – work-life balance became work-life “fusion” and they’ve felt more productive overall. If the desire for remote work is pervasive, companies will recognize this and begin offering this option to acquire and retain employees. Competition for top resources is fierce and when the companies who offer remote-work begin snapping up more than their fair share of top talent, other companies will be forced to do so also.

Talent acquisition may be the single biggest driver for companies to embrace remote workers. Areas where high-tech is well entrenched – Toronto, Vancouver, Silicon Valley – are expensive to live and often force people into long commutes for reasons of affordability. The tech-companies that call these places their homes are growing quickly and hiring frequently. By embracing a remote worker strategy, they will have access to talent that either can’t afford or aren’t interested in living in these centers. Local talent pools open up to become a global talent ocean. This was a trend that we began seeing prior to COVID, but now that knowledge workers have remote working experience, we expect this trend to accelerate. Another big driver for business is the savings that can be achieved by reducing the size of their physical corporate footprint. Office space is a big cost item on companies’ income statements. They may be able to reduce their office costs by half or more by leveraging more remote work. This is a big enticement for adopting the strategy.

Consultants and contractors, to best take advantage of this shift, it is recommended that you give some thought to your own experiences working remotely. What were some of the challenges that you were able to overcome… what were some of your notable successes? Consider what it is that you’ve done to be a better “virtual team member” or how you’ve successfully managed your remote team or how you build value for the companies for which you’ve worked as a remote member of a team. Find ways to add these successes/best practices into your resume, and be prepared to speak to this should you be interviewed for a role with a remote work component.

The genie is out of the bottle… remote work is now “a thing” and, I believe, that it will be much more prevalent than it had been before COVID!

Bonus: Here’s a link to a great article that lists 20 work-from-home tips! (There’s many, many such article online!)

So, Now What??!

So, Now What??!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

I’d like to begin by stating that this is purely an opinion piece. I’ve no better access to information than most other people (the information I’ve reviewed comes from internet sources and my own discussions with contractors, consultants and clients) but, I think, that this may be the point. I don’t know what’s coming next, no one does. Many say they do… but they don’t. So in this COVID-obsessed and stressed out world, what is one to do?

There are very few people in this world who truly love and embrace change. (And no, I am not one of them!) Sure, many of us can appreciate the concept of change being needed for progress to occur, we may even agree that it could be a good thing. But it rarely “feels good” when we are in the middle of it. And, boy! Are we in the middle of it now!! Everybody has everything in their lives turned on its head right now. Sure, we’ve made accommodations and are in the process of defining our own “new normal”, but the truth is that the way things are today aren’t the way they are going to be in 6 months from now, nor will they ever be the same way they were before! It’s a scary thought for most people — the “future normal” is unknown.

Wait a minute… the future has never been known… how is this “new” in any way? What is different now, is the scope of the changes that we are facing. Too much of our lives have been changing too drastically too quickly and it will continue to do so for some time to come, for the foreseeable future, actually. I guess hyper-change IS the new normal. Or, to put it oxymoronically, un-normal is normal. And we would do well to get used to that idea.

So, back to the original question: what do we do now, today, to set ourselves up for success in this “oxymoronical” (not a real word) time. I don’t know (for sure). But here are a number of ideas that have shown to be useful when living in times of great change:

  • Accept that you cannot stop change. Your plans, whatever they were, may no longer be possible to accomplish — at least in the way or time frame which you’d intended. If your situation has created an insurmountable obstacle to your plans, stop trying to fight it. Your time and energy would be better spent focusing on something else, something that will lead to positive results for you.
  • Be flexible. Look for ways to adapt your plans so that your goals might still be met. Look for a “Plan B”. Expect that you might need to look for a Plan C, D, E…
  • Be engaged. As much as you might want to hunker down, withdraw and ride it out, these massive changes will continue. Unless you are retired, with everything paid off and have a sizeable, well-hedged nest egg, you are not going to be able to “sit this one out”. “Group Think” is real and it is a powerful tool for you to use to keep current. Working your network of family, friends, colleagues, etc. will help to keep you abreast of the changes as they happen and provide ideas for making the accommodations necessary to limit the downside and maximize the opportunities.
  • Limit the downside and maximize the opportunities. As we all know, change does not need to be a negative thing. Although it can be uncomfortable, there will be both opportunities to take advantage of and pitfalls which we’d like to avoid. Being “opportunistic” might not always have a good connotation; however, in times of great change, it is an approach one should embrace.
  • Give back. As bad as we might have it, others have it far worse. Helping others in need is a great way to do good while attaining perspective, lifting your spirit, and generally feeling better about yourself (and your own situation).
  • On the career side, if you find that you have unwanted-but-extra time on your hands, investing in your knowledge/skills through training, reading, networking, etc. often pays a good return. If you don’t have the time or wherewithal for a formalized course/certification, there are many free sources of information and training available. As well, there are user groups (albeit virtual these days) that you can join. Not only are these a great networking opportunity, they are also great places to learn!
  • Try something new. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I always wanted to… ??, but never had the time“. Or, “Someday, when the time is right, I’ll try to… ??“. Maybe now is the time. You may find a hidden talent or something new that you love to do and the rest of your life may be richer for it. Learn a new language! The direction of macro-changes suggests that globalization will continue unabated and being bilingual or multi-lingual can be a real advantage.
  • Do some soul-searching. Most of us have been “running hot” for a long time. We’ve had our heads down, and pushing forward with our careers/lives/relationships/etc. When evaluating your opportunities, it is a good practice to challenge your own goals, philosophies, and ideals. Is what was important to you 10 years ago still important to you today? If you take time to peel back that “onion”, you might be surprised to find that your priorities are due for a change. What Color Is Your Parachute? is an old, tried-and-true, self-help book meant to guide people through a career change; but it contains excellent exercises that helps one to identify what is most important to them and set goals and priorities and make new, better-fit life plans. Resources such as this book (and countless internet sites) are valuable as guides to your self-awareness journey.
  • Exercise and take care of your health. The benefits of this go without saying… so, I’ll only say this: Regardless of the amount of change facing you over the coming months and years, attending to your physical and mental health will never be a wasted effort.
  • Take time to read — news sources, industry articles, biographies, editorials, training literature and whitepapers. Listen to podcasts on subjects of interest to you. It doesn’t even have to be career-related; it can be of general interest to you or hobby-related. Try to choose things that engage you and stimulate your mind… and minimize your time watching mindless TV shows, the black hole that can be YouTube, etc. because, in these, you lose hours of your life and come out no better for it.

Here are some links to websites that share ideas on how to cope with change. They are good “reads” and can augment my own list here:

That’s my list for coping, Mid-COVID – August 2020. As I said at the beginning of this blog post: this is an Opinion Piece and I am the world’s leading authority on my own opinion. I’m sure you have your own advice to add to this list… and maybe even counter points to argue! I’d be pleased to see you share your own ideas with our readership by leaving a comment below! In the words of the great and wise Red Green: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. Were all in this together!”

Take care, stay well, be strong… and thrive!

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

In Canada, winters are tough and as soon as we get past March, we begin looking forward to Spring… more light, warmer temperatures, a sense of waking optimism! That’s the magic of this season. Or, it has been in years past. This season feels a little (a lot??) different. Social distancing, doubt about careers, and worry for loved ones all contribute to a significant headwind against the optimism that Spring typically brings.

Some people take this all in stride — a grand adventure! “It’s not the situation, it is how you choose to react to it!” That’s fine and good for the folks who have the wherewithal to adopt this mental state and if you are one of these, consider yourself lucky. Mental Health has been given increasing levels of press these past years, thanks to the advent of Mental Health Week/Month and advancing education on this important subject. Eagle supports this by running a “Not Myself Today” campaign each year and, during these COVID-19 accommodations we are extending this. We’re working hard to ensure none of our staff are “left behind” struggling to cope with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, or stress. Sometimes the solution isn’t just adopting a tough mental attitude, people need more assistance.

As contractors, you are both “regular employees” and “business owners” With this, the stressors can be double. Uncertainty as a contractor isn’t a new thing, but this COVID-19 world that we live in elevates uncertainty to levels that can be hard to cope with. If you are struggling with this, you need to recognize that you are not alone in feeling this way. But with the necessary accommodations required to stem COVID-19, isolation is a bigger threat. Know that there is a lot of help out there for you. Any number of agencies, government or private, exist to give you the boost you might need to work through your challenges. You need not wait until you are overwhelmed by things to seek help; in fact, the earlier you begin the easier it will be to work yourself into the right mindset. Two terrific sources of support are MindBeacon and the Canadian Centre for Mental Health. MindBeacon is typically offered as a “for-fee” service, but during the pandemic, they have opened up their services free-of-charge to all Canadians that need their assistance and the CCMHS is always available for those Canadians requiring their services. And, certainly, there are other sources of help as well. A quick online search will find many such organizations.

If you don’t need immediate help, but the stress of these times are beginning to wear on you, I thought I’d share a YouTube video that I found to be helpful. It’s theme is pragmatism above pessimism (and even optimism!) I found that it helped to put things into perspective. These next months will be hard but we’ll make it through and it will be better on the other side. Spring magic may just have to wait this year.

I wish you all good health, safety and the perspective needed to persevere!

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

When disaster strikes (not too hard to imagine these days), most people enter “fire-fighting” mode, change their priorities and deal with it. As a contractor you are a business owner. And businesses require a bit more pre-planning than that. Sure, your business may have only a single employee but that makes this employee pretty important to the company! Even small businesses have suppliers, customers and partners that count on them. A Business Continuity Plan ensures that you know what to do in what order should something unforeseen come up.

Elements of a good BCP vary upon which source you check. In general, they contain these main components:

  • Understanding what is critical to your business’ operations
  • Determining the most important functions within your business
  • Identifying how long these functions can continue to operate during an emergency situation
  • Assigning some measure of risks to each based on your analysis
  • Coming up with a plan that addresses these risks (heavy emphasis on open and timely communications with your stakeholders)
  • Some suggest a final point – Testing the plan. But, depending on your situation, this may not be possible.

There is no shortage of advice online about how to tackle this business planning.

A big part of Eagle’s business continuity plan is how we leverage technology. It’s been over 10 years now, that we adopted technology that fully enabled our workers to work remotely should it come to that. In 2013, the Calgary flood closed the downtown core for many days. No one was allowed in or out and many businesses ground to a halt. Eagle’s BCP kicked in and we continued to service our clients and work with our contractor partners without any significant impact. Key aspects to our technology included cloud-based ERP/CRM, Digital Communications (VoIP, etc.), internal messaging systems and ensuring that all employees have a proper workspace and equipment to be able to be productive and effective from home.

Best Practices for Working from Home

Today, more and more of our clients are directing their staff to work remotely to encourage “social distancing”. As a contractor, this would be required of you as well. Besides the security concerns that would need to be arranged with the client, working from home requires some best practices/skills in addition to having the technology in place that would allow your work to continue when clients shut off access to their offices. Here are some links to past Talent Development Centre posts that share ideas with respect to telecommuting, or as we call it at Eagle, WORKshifting (working wherever you are most productive):

These are strange times and uncharted waters! Hopefully, you have a BCP and are implementing it now. And, if not… well, as the old saying goes… “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today.” All the best to you as the world works through these health challenges! Take care – stay safe.

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

With labour supply shortages becoming ubiquitous (in the local business market, provincially, nationally and around the world), forward-thinking companies with means are changing up the hiring strategies used even for technical roles… and especially for new, emerging, hard-to-find skills. When the world was in a “buyer’s market”, employers could ask for a shopping-list of attributes and, with a little patience, they could expect to hire close to an exact version of their “perfect candidate”. This is no longer true and hasn’t been true for some time now… and companies are coming around to the idea.

Progressive companies are more and more often hiring people using criteria that includes some basic level of education/experience along with a number of specific, highly valued, non-technical characteristics. We’re basically talking attitude, aptitude and business/people skills. These companies expect to train new hires to be able to do the jobs for which they are hiring. In this way, they are acquiring smart, motivated employees and investing in them to get them to where they need to be technically. The following chart from recent CompTIA research shows that only 3 of the 9 most desired skills are directly technology related.

CompTIA - Skills IT Managers are Looking for When Hiring

One such example of a company looking to invest in training, is AT&T. It has dog-eared $1 billion to re-train their staff to bring their skills sets up to what is needed by the company. Although this appears to be an enormous sum of money, they’ve calculated that it is cheaper to train than to release and (hopefully) re-hire people with the desired technical skill sets. The cost of releasing and then re-hiring is over 20% of the employees’ yearly salaries; and AT&T found that retraining staff has a smaller impact on the actual day-to-day business, they get to keep valuable knowledge-capital in the business, and there is significant improvements in employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.

For independent contractors this message should solidify a couple of things for you:

1) If you are a SME in a particular area and you are able to keep yourself on the leading edge of technological developments, the world is likely to be your oyster. You will be somewhat of a scarce resource and highly coveted.

2) If you find yourself with older, somewhat out-of-date skill sets you might try to emphasize the business/communication skills that you have built or the transferable skills that you are bringing with you. Through an understanding of the role for which you are applying, bring out these soft skills showing how they will help you to become the resource they need. With CRA rules being what they are, you may need to consider taking a permanent role so that the company can invest in your training.

Or… You can invest in yourself, upgrading your skills to better align with the business. But any way you approach it, know that hiring managers are more and more interested in the soft skills applicants bring with them. The following is a list (not exhaustive) of the soft skills employers find valuable. I encourage you to work some of this into your resume and interview conversations!

Soft Skills Employers Look for in People
Source: TIQ Group – Soft Skills Employers Look For In People

The New (and, likely, persistent) “Normal” — Constrained Labour Supply — Opens New Opportunities for Canadian IT Contractors

The New (and, likely, persistent) "Normal" -- Constrained Labour Supply -- Opens New Opportunities for Canadian IT Contractors

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

I’m just going to come out and say it… Unless there is a global economic melt-down, tight labour supply is here and it’s here to stay. If you already believe this to be so, stop reading and spend your valuable time on another blog post as I’m just going to re-affirm your convictions. If you aren’t sure about this (or are one of those people who really enjoy having their convictions re-affirmed), then by all means… read on!

With respect to the “baby-boomer-retirement-leaving-a-shortage-of-workers” scenario, this has been predicted for decades, and the United States appears to have hit their tipping point this past year. Yes, their economy is strong but it is more than that; they are at 50-year lows in unemployment rate (another ½ point lower and they’ll be at 70-year lows). This is a measure of broad-based employment – not just technical (or even professional) roles, its pretty much across the board. However, in tech, it is even worse. There are more job openings than there are people in the space needed to fill them. In my last blog post for Eagle’s Talent Development Centre, I discussed the growing “skills gap” but this isn’t what I’m referring to here (although the skills gap is part of it). There are more open roles in IT in the USA than there are IT people looking for work, regardless of the skills gap (the fact that the skills gap exists just makes the issue a whole lot more impactful). Industry followers have predicted that fully 1/3 of the US’ open IT positions may go unfilled. Because of this, the US is exporting their shortages to the rest of the world by either opening new offices in other countries, having foreign workers move to the US to work or, more often, hiring remote workers who can complete their jobs in their current country of residence.

In an article posted by CIO Dive, they discuss the severe shortages for Cloud experts. They suggest that Cloud specialists aren’t even answering their phones anymore as they are getting 20+ calls every week about new opportunities. The solution for filling these roles, the article suggests, is to hire based on attitude and aptitude and train what is needed. Interestingly, this article could have just as easily been written about some other IT technology and still remained valid — replace Cloud with AI, Blockchain, CyberSecurity, Data Science, Big Data Analytics or any number of other “hot technologies” and the message would still hold true. A shortage in labour is the new normal.

What are IT consultants, employees and contractors to do with this information? Well, it certainly will put more power in your hands to choose the roles, projects and companies that you want to work at. And you may find yourself and your staffing company partner in a better position to negotiate rates on your behalf. But as I wrote in my previous blog, other aspects of the opportunity are sure to become more important in your decision making. The following attributes may hold greater weight when applicants make their own, personal decisions as to what constitutes “premiere assignments”:

  • Strong corporate mandate/message/culture… matching your own morals and philosophies
  • Flexibility… work/life balanced offered and/or having the ability to complete remote work
  • Team Dynamics… fitting in with the existing team, their approach and practices
  • Is the project set up for success?
  • Leading edge technology or approaches leveraged by the company… learning something new and keeping your resume current
  • In the same vein as the point above, are training and/or certifications offered by the company that is doing the hiring?
  • Work environment perks… free snacks, catered lunches, bring pet to work, etc.
  • Will the project allow you to “make a difference”? Is your work truly impactful?
  • Tuition reimbursement… typically a perk offered to permanent hires at some companies, but as supply tightens, this may become more common!

Some of these attributes or “perks” are mostly seen in the permanent hiring of employees; however, as supply becomes even more constrained and companies look to increase their competitiveness for resources, it is likely that some of these (or perks similar to them) will make their way into the “offer-package” for gig jobs as well.

This all sounds pretty good, but if you are on the wrong end of the skills gap, this blog post may ring hollow. It is a difficult position to be in when you no longer have what companies are asking for… but people who choose to make their career in the tech-industry understand that life-long learning and re-training is a necessary part of keeping relevant. And, as mentioned above, companies will begin to hire people based on their aptitude and core-skills and train the rest. Keeping up with your networking, building relationships with multiple recruiters, and staying “in the loop” will also be critical to maximizing your exposure to new opportunities.

By embracing change and closely following the latest tech-trends, a career in technology will be rewarding and, with long-term labour supply constraints, you may find more opportunities for meaningful work and an environment that really fits your personal and professional needs. The future is bright — there may never have been a better time to be a contactor!

The Growing Skills Gap, The Pace of Change… and the Critical Importance of Chosen Assignments

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

The Growing Skills Gap, The Pace of Change… and the Critical Importance of Chosen Assignments

There are several factors that work together to create a “skills gap” within the labour market in Canada (and worldwide for that matter). Local gaps can occur in any market based on competing projects using similar technology that eat up available resources; or, perhaps, a company wants to try something new-to-the-region and existing tech-professionals just don’t exist in that location. These gaps happen all the time and are, typically, short-lived as labour is quite mobile. However, our industry is noting a growing technological skills gap in general. This is across multiple regions and, in fact, around the globe. The aging workforce (baby boomers retiring or about to retire) – coupled with – too few young people to replace them – coupled with – not enough students taking the STEM education needed to fill new roles -coupled with – an explosion in tech-related jobs… all work together as a “perfect storm” to create a growing and pervasive technology skills gap.

But there is still another reason, one that I wish to highlight, and it is one that effects many contractors and consultants: The pace of change in technology. Technological change has never been faster. There are a multitude of new technologies that didn’t exist even a few years ago. And there are more areas of specialization/differentiation within the tech industry than ever before as both the breadth and the complexity of technology increases. It has gotten to the point that people either can’t keep up or don’t wish to keep up anymore. After all, there is just so much change that people are willing to tolerate. And when someone learns and masters a new skill, they want to reap the return on their investment of time and money vs. immediately throwing more time and money into learning something else. Most people who choose to make technology the foundation for their profession understand that life-long learning is a must. But as mentioned above there is always a limit… whether it be physical, mental or financial, exhaustion will always catch up.

For the consulting industry, this is both a blessing and a curse. “Where there is confusion there is profit… for the wise [person]”… new and unfamiliar tech keeps both demand and rates high. But it is also very easy to become out-of-touch or even obsolete. In Calgary, when the O&G industry turned around a few years back, many IT contractors found themselves out of work or they took lesser level roles to keep working through the economic downturn. When the market began to come back a year-and-a-half to two-years later, there was a surprise that we did not expect. While many people’s professional development went on hold for this time, technological advancement didn’t wane. We discovered that a skills gap had developed… and the skills/experience that employers were wanting, few local people had. It was a scramble for the local market to re-tool, re-educate and come up to speed on these newer technologies.

The lesson (or one of the lessons) in all this, for IT consultants/contractors, is in understanding the importance of the work that you choose. By carefully choosing your next project, one that leverages leading edge application of technology – in an area where you wish to grow and develop – you are able to keep your skills current. Through great projects, you continue to build your resume remaining relevant and highly employable. Given the reality of a growing global skills gap, contractor rates will be strong… as such, I believe that the kind of project, the nature of the work and the technology stack to be leveraged will become even more strategically important to contactors when evaluating and choosing new assignments.

What’s on the Minds of Canada’s CIOs?

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

What's on the Minds of Canada's CIOs?

 

While many CIOs are great communicators and share clear and motivating visions for the future, some can be tougher to pin down and it is sometimes hard to see what makes them tick. Even if the CIO at the company where you work is one of the former, it is hard to tell if he or she is part of the majority. Well, all this is to say that ITWorld Canada released the 2019 Canadian CIO Census and I thought I’d share some of the findings as they apply to IT Labour with you. This is particularly good information as it is Canadian-only data, and most of what you find online is US-content-heavy. So, without further ado, here is what the IT leaders in Canada have on their minds!

Hiring Plans for the Coming Year

Almost half (48%) of those surveyed are expecting to keep IT headcount at current levels, either by choice or due to a hiring freeze; while over a third (37%) are looking to increase the size of their teams. This makes for robust demand for talent in Canada. Only 4% suggest that they will decrease the size of their departments.

Day-To-Day Concerns

While 16 different “concerns” were cited, the top 5 things that keep most CIOs up at night are: Data Security/Privacy Issues, Uptime/Reliabilty Concerns, Compliance Requirements, Business Innovation Demands, and tied for 5th place was Making Data Actionable and Staffing.

CIO’s concerns for finding the right resources for their teams and projects has grown by over 55% over the past 3 years. This is a result of unemployment rates of IT workers in Canada hovering around the 2% mark, on average. Most economists consider “full employment” to be around 4% unemployment… as a consequence, most regions in Canada are in a supply-constrained state. With things even tighter in the US, they are exporting their labour shortages to Canada, enticing Canadian workers to travel down to work on their projects or they are employing “remote work”. The results are the same, save a global downturn of some kind, IT labour supply is going to become tighter and tighter… and our CIOs know this.

ITCT, StatsCanada Chart - ICT Employment

In-Demand and Out-Of-Demand Areas in IT

CIOs report having the hardest time hiring for the following areas: AI, Data Analytics, IoT, Mobile Development, and Cloud Services. Specific roles that are of particular interest include Enterprise Application Developers, Big Data/Analytics Specialists, Business Analysts, and Project Managers. All this was consistent with the CIO Census finding from last year, with interest in Application Developers growing slightly.

Given the focus that much of Canada’s IT sector has been giving to Cloud and As-A-Service technologies, it isn’t too surprising that the IT roles where they report “negative demand” is a tie between Data Centre Management and Application Maintenance and Support.

Although there aren’t many IT roles that CIOs claim might be reduced, there are some roles that may see some “turbulence” with some CIOs claiming to need to hire, while others are looking to shed workers. These include Help Desk, IT Support, Network Security, and IT Generalists… some of the people working in these roles may experience opportunities ending at certain companies, but demand from other companies will more than offsets the reductions that are expected, with the number of CIOs “hiring” outstripping those “downsizing” 3:1.

If you are interested in reading the entire CIO Census report, you may do so here.

 

Banking and Technology — Reaching an Inflection Point

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

The banking industry today is one of the drivers of innovation in Information Technology in Canada and around the world. Yet, many of the established big banks have legacy systems that threaten to drag them down in the coming tsunami of change. In times of great change and confusion, there are opportunities for the wise consultant.

It wasn’t that long ago that banks were using green-screen technology and were still doing so long after rolling out the first ATMs. They weren’t often thought of as being leading-edge users of newer technology; after all, they needed certainty of operation, maximum uptime, few errors. Bleeding-edge technology was often a bit risky in these respects. Furthermore, the processing that they did need required very large and very expensive (and very consistent/predictable) mainframe computers. They were a large investment that was needed to scale with the banks’ growing businesses. Much of this changed with advent of internet banks who limited the physical requirements of typical brick-n-mortar facilities and offered ubiquitous convenience of anytime, anywhere banking (providing you had access to the internet). These new banks were nimble, technologically-advanced and great marketers. Seemingly all-of-a-sudden, new products, new ways to reach people, and new technology became key differentiators for market disrupting upstarts and innovation became a necessity to the slower-to-change institutional banks.

Number of ICT Workers in CanadaThe big banks’ world was changing and they were being ‘leap-frogged’ by these borderless entities. The change was on! Today, Toronto and Montreal have a large share of the IT talent supply in Canada (45%+ of all talent in Canada) and at least some of this is the result of the strength of demand/needs coming from the strong banking sector. New technology and new ideas are being envisioned, piloted and rolled-out by even the stodgiest of banks. Digital and business transformation, the new paradigm taken up by so many of today’s companies and organizations, is absolutely rampant in the banking industry.

Ok… You’re saying, ‘So tell me something I don’t know’.  Well… How about a short history lesson that might shed some light on what the banking industry may be facing?

For those of us with some grey hair, this situation is quite reminiscent of what happened around the turn of the century in the Telco space. What happened there was that large, ponderous, Regional Bell Operating Companies (to use the old vernacular) had been implementing massive telephone technology systems, incurring huge costs to do so and then amortizing the expense of it all over decades. They had near (or actual) monopolies, long distance calling rates were atrocious, and they had time on their side with little enticement to innovate. Canadian company, Northern Telecom (later Nortel), was a mainstay in the industry, selling their telephony solutions to the world. Then came Internet Protocol (IP)… and the game changed for them and for the RBOC’s, seemingly overnight.

In reality, it wasn’t really all that fast (not by today’s standards) but they were about to be one of the first large industries to learn the lessons that disruptive technology has taught to so many since then. Smaller, more nimble telephone companies began popping up everywhere (CLEC’s – Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) leveraging newer technology that took advantage of high-bandwidth data trunks and new switching technology. Although still expensive, they were able to piggy-back on the networks that the RBOC’s had built (Gov’t regulators demanded the RBOCs allow them to do so). The cost per call was dropping dramatically as a result and data was able to be transmitted in volumes that actually made sense for businesses. The internet had its highways. What came of this was that the well-financed old equipment companies and the quick-and-nimble upstarts were pitted against each other — companies like Nortel coming from the high-reliability world of telecommunications and those like Cisco coming from the world of data-networking. Initially Nortel joked that they’d learn to spell ‘IP’ before Cisco could learn to spell ‘reliability’ and, for the most part, they were able to hold their own. At one-point, Nortel employed over 60,000 people in their research-and-development facility (BNR – Bell Northern Labs) alone. Both sides created great new products. Nortel had age-old client relationships with the telco’s on their side along with excellent quality products, and the likes of Cisco produced innovative and cheaper alternatives. It was the ‘space race’ of the telecommunications industry. Fantastic new products were coming out quicker and quicker… which sounds great …until it wasn’t.

Their customers — the RBOCs and the CLECs — were in a feeding frenzy of buying. It seemed that every 6 months, a better, faster, more progressive solution was coming out. CLECs were leap-frogging the RBOCs to offer better and cheaper service to consumers. Then the RBOCs would leap-frog them back again. The problem for all the players in this industry was that they no longer had time on their side. They didn’t have time to amortize the very high costs of the new technology before the next iteration came out and they were forced to buy/implement/replace or be unable to compete. It was a global race to the bottom and RBOCs and CLECs alike were running out of money — especially the CLECs, many of whom were relatively new business start-ups, part of the dotcom craze. Nortel’s clients couldn’t afford the new gear anymore so Nortel began ‘selling’ their new products and taking equity in these companies as payment. The whole industry and their supply chains became dangerously over-leveraged, a veritable house-of-cards. Then the dotcom bubble burst and most of the CLECs went out of business, dragging the over-leveraged Nortel (and many of their suppliers) down with them.

So, back to the Banking/Finance Industry today. Some of the obvious parallels are the ‘old guard’ who were titans in the industry with wide moats to protect their market share and had relatively little technical innovation for many years. Then come the upstarts, leveraging new technology to change the game. And then the response from the established banks to modernize to be able to compete and, in fact, push on the boundaries of what was possible before. The big banks also have a similar challenge to the Regional Bell Operating Companies, and that is they are somewhat handcuffed by the older, legacy systems that they’d deployed. The new companies don’t have this to worry about. They can move 100% to new technology, whereas the big banks have huge investments tied up in their mainframe technology and, worse, no easy or quick or cheap ways to get off this technology.  As the legacy banks struggle with this piece, the staff that they have managing this infrastructure move dangerously close to retirement — and there are not a lot of Cobol programmers out there ready to step into the vacated roles!

Of course, there are a lot of differences between the Telco and Banking scenarios as well. It has been almost 20 years since the dotcom crash, and everyone has seen lesson after lesson on the disruptive impact technology can have on entire industries, and people are quicker to react to the challenge. And banks are definitely not cash strapped — they have the ability to invest in new technology, in transforming their business, in moving into or out of markets. And, most important to IT experts/contractors, they have the ability to hire many of the best IT people the market has to offer!

Banks, old and new, need to get their technology/business process mix just right. Their continued market success and very survival depends upon it. Innovation = Technology + People. With enough money, the Technology part of this equation is easy… the People part is what is strategically important! As I mentioned earlier, in times of great change and confusion, there are opportunities for the wise consultant.

Disclaimer:

I’m going to pre-acknowledge (before anyone chooses to call me out) that, for the purposes of this blog post, I’ve oversimplified the Telco/Nortel/Cisco/market crash scenario. There were many, many additional factors that played out. However, this is how I remembered it and the lessons that I took away. I worked during those years for Northern Telecom, and a failed CLEC (Norigen), and was part of companies (Anixter and ADNS – Ameritech Data Networking Solutions) building out the data-highways to which I refer in this blog post. I was part of the industry at that time and lived through the ups and downs of it. So, I ask that I be allowed to share my opinion based on what I witnessed directly.

That said, if you have other opinions or experiences of your own and would like to share with our readership… please do so by leaving a comment below!