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Lessons Learned from Starting a Technology Podcast

Lessons Learned from Starting a Technology Podcast

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions at Ea
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In January, Eagle launched a podcast series that showcases technology, job-roles within IT and business strategies that leverage technology. Think: Cyber Security, Project Management and eCommerce respectively. It is called the Eagle Tech Talks Podcast and can be found here (or wherever you listen to your podcasts). I took this on as a “COVID Project” to keep me busy and productive while our clients figured out how they were going to continue their IT projects while everyone was working from home. For internal training purposes, I began interviewing practitioners, subject matter experts and thought-leaders in the subject matter topics I’d chosen. About a dozen interviews into this process, based on the positive feedback from our team, we decided to take this the extra step and build these interviews into actual podcasts to share with the world!

Now that we have 15+ episodes finished and uploaded (and about that many more interviews completed and in the process of being converted into podcast episodes), I thought it might be of interest to share some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. Perhaps some of you are considering something such as this… or something equally as challenging, but different. Maybe my experience would serve to encourage you to start something that is new to you. I encourage you to do so as my own experience has been overwhelmingly positive, despite my serious reservations starting off down the path of a podcaster.

One of my early reservations was how much technical finagling would have to be done to get these together and out to the podcast sites. Turns out, it was one of the easier parts of the whole process! The technology to do these is, by now, very well established and quite user-friendly. I wasn’t required to make big investments in new technology or software, nor did I. The podcast isn’t glitzy with high-production value… it didn’t need to be. What it is, is honest — real people, talking about their areas of expertise and the passion that drives them. The lesson I learned was not to overthink it or overengineer it, but simply have a solid idea/plan and just START. The earlier episodes are a little shakier than the later ones and, the truth is, I’m still learning as I go. And that’s ok!

Related to the last lesson is: don’t demand perfection. Perfection is near impossible and, depending on your goals, it doesn’t need to be perfect. I’m not a trained broadcaster, my voice isn’t particularly well-suited to “audio recordings”. Again, that’s ok. People tune in to hear what my guests have to say, not how good (or bad) I sound. The lesson learned is that if you wait until everything is perfect, you will never start. Choose what you want to do, then set yourself an aggressive timeline and commit to meeting that timeline. Perfection be damned.

Another lesson I’ve learned by managing a weekly podcast is that your time management skills need to reach a whole new level. The podcast is not my primary job/deliverable at Eagle, yet it could easily eat up the lion’s share of my time! To successfully put out a new episode each week and still get my regular day-job completed, I had to build a strategy and a process that ensured I was lining new guests up for future episodes, working with my current guests to plan the episode, complete these interviews, and build and record podcast episode content in a way that minimized the amount of time required so that I could focus most of my efforts on my other business priorities. This made me more “purposeful” on how I approached every day and forced me to become ruthless in my prioritization. I also learned that when working with my guests, their priorities weren’t always the same as my own. This forced me to become a clear (and persistent) communicator and taught me how to be flexible, to deal with changing priorities.

Taking on the challenge of the Tech Talks podcast has allowed me the opportunity to meet many GREAT people. People who are passionate about the work that they do and are truly experts in their respective fields. So, not only have I had the chance to learn a ton from these people on the various topics that I’ve chosen, but I’ve been able to significantly expand my own professional network. I now know many new people who can be trusted to take a call from me and help out should I need it, just as they know that I’d be happy to do the same for them. This has resulted in new business for Eagle and for my guests’ businesses. The lesson learned here is that talking and working with people leads to win-win scenarios and new opportunities. Through their participation, my guests are able to build their professional visibility and brands. Eagle’s team is able to learn from industry SME’s gaining the knowledge to ask better questions of our customers and share better, more detailed information with potential candidates on the roles for which we are recruiting. And, now that this is a podcast, our listeners benefit as well, whether they are other staffing industry people, people considering a career in IT, or IT professionals that are interested in learning more about their areas of interest.

An unexpected lesson-learned was that it is really good to challenge yourself! As mentioned earlier, I had many reservations about this project going into it; I would certainly be stepping outside my comfort zone. Yet, I have been able to learn some new skills, I’ve grown professionally from the experience, I’ve built my professional network as well as my own professional brand, and it was a LOT more FUN than I ever imagined!!  I’ve heard it said that you need to “live on the edge” for that is where life happens and, I have to admit, this was true for me working on this project!

And the final lesson that I will share is that.. People are good! Much better than I would have believed. The support and encouragement that I’ve received has been beyond all expectations! Whether from my colleagues and team here at Eagle, from the people that I speak with as potential guests for the podcast, or even in the general feedback and comments from listeners of the podcast. They have, in large, been outstanding. I’m under no illusions that the podcast/training that we put out is super-special – In fact, I fully expected to be harassed by the “trolls” but it really hasn’t been the case. In general, people seem to appreciate what it is that we’ve been trying to do with this podcast and have been very supportive.

So, there you have it. The lessons I learned by doing something out of my comfort zone. Perhaps these lessons will translate to your own project(s) that you might have been considering. Don’t be afraid to give something new a try. Personal and professional growth awaits!

Announcing: Eagle Tech Talks… a Podcast!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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Eagle Tech TalksBack in the Spring, when COVID first made itself felt, things really slowed down for the staffing industry. Eagle was fortunate, being specialized in IT, as most projects were not cancelled, only new work was put on hold. That said, our clients were inwardly focused trying to figure out how to move everyone so they could work from home, how to run their business and projects when everyone was remote, etc. As things were slower for me, I picked up a project that had been “gathering dust” for some time — building new technology training for the team. I settled on creating a series of interviews with IT practitioners, thought-leaders, and SMEs to discuss technology, roles, and/or strategies with the people who are actually “living it”.

I began conducting interview-style sessions and recording with Eagle’s team as the audience. These were so well received we thought that we would convert them into a podcast open to anyone who would like to learn more about these topics.

We are just now doing an official Launch of the Podcast and I’d like to invite any readers of Eagle’s TDC to check it out and listen to an episode or two should they be interested! I’m the furthest thing away from being a professional interviewer; however, the people that I speak with are the real deal! They are real people, sharing real stories and insights, about their real-world professions. We don’t get down “into the weeds” too much and keep the conversations fairly high-level, meaning it’s great to get a sense of what makes that technology/IT role/strategy “tick”!

Perhaps you know some young people who are considering IT as a career. I encourage you to share the podcast with them so that they can learn of the wide breadth of roles available under the umbrella that is Information Technology.

I hope you take the time to check it out. Some of my guests may well be colleagues that you know from the industry! You can find all of the podcast episodes wherever you listen to podcasts (a few links are below). And, if you are a thought-leader yourself and are interested in being considered for a guest SME on the podcast… reach out to me directly! I’d love to discuss it further with you.

Subscribe to Eagle Tech Talks:

Regional Job Market Update for Vancouver (January 2021)

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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Downtown Vancouver Sunset
Downtown Vancouver Sunset” by Magnus Larsson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Vancouver’s economy and labour market has gone through much the same challenges and cycles as that of other Canadian provinces over the past year.  With trade barriers thrown up by the US last year, government spending impacted by reduced revenues and emergency spending/measures, housing prices falling dramatically, and BC’s large travel industry being hammered by COVID accommodations, it is no wonder that last year was a difficult one.  However, BC also benefits from a burgeoning high-tech industry — a sector of the economy that actually benefitted from the health issues of 2020.  This sector helped to lessen the blow overall and helps to set up the province and its largest city for a nice recovery.

Due to changing conditions across the board, BC is set to enjoy a Canada-leading rebound in 2021.  According to the  Business Intelligence for BC website, the unemployment rate is expected shrink to 6.5% this coming year (from 7.5% in 2020), to become one of the lowest of all provinces in Canada.  And GDP is to expand 5.6% vs last year, again, more than what is forecast for any other province.  Demand for housing, a strong underlying economic indicator, is forecasted to be strong, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. In fact, the Canadian Real Estate Association predicts that home prices are set to rebound strongly, growing by 9% this coming year.  As well, TD Bank Economists expect that government stimulus will make a big impact this coming year.  In addition to the Federal Gov’ts pledge to provide $70 – $100 billion in fiscal spending (across Canada), the BC Gov’t is expected to invest $2 billion in new spending and contingencies in 2021.  All this, along with more favorable trading terms expected with the United States and some return to normal travel helping both the tourism and hospitality industries, BC and Vancouver are set up for a very strong economic rebound this year.

Most of the economic benefits are expected to be seen over the final 6 to 8 months of the year as COVID accommodations are relaxed in lock step with the availability of the new vaccines.  That said, businesses and industries are planning for these coming benefits now and this is beginning to drive additional demand for information technology knowledge workers.  BC has already replaced over 90% of the jobs lost during the worst of the downturn last year (source: TD Bank Economists) and, as such, it is expected that knowledge workers of every stripe will be in shorter supply; perhaps no industry impacted as much as the IT industry that had already been somewhat insulated from the worst of 2020 economic impacts.

Demand for Eagle’s staffing services were relatively strong throughout December of 2020. December is typically a slower month given year-end, vacations and holidays, but January is expected to be red-hot and, even during these first few days of January, requirements have been strong.  Vancouver has always been rather steadfast as far as swings in contractor rates go.  Never being the highest in Canada, but seldom being the lowest, 2021 may challenge this trend.  Human resources (IT workers) that are experts in specialty roles in such areas as Cloud, Security, eCommerce, and Machine Learning/AI /Data Science will be harder to find and the expectations are that rates will increase over the coming year.  Whereas roles in areas such as infrastructure, server, raised floor, networking, and application management are likely to have rates remain mostly unchanged.  Experts who can build business /customer understanding, better insight, and drive scalable and secure efficiency will be in highest demand and earn the highest rates increases.

On a micro-level, the following are some of the hiring trends that Eagle is witnessing:

  • The level of experience demanded from our clients is higher, typically senior resources with solid project and/or domain knowledge.
  • We are being asked for more specialists than generalists. This is different from the “bottom” of the economic cycle, where our clients were seeking people who were generalists and could wear multiple hats and “keep the lights on”.  Today, our customers tend to ask for people who have expertise in a certain area and can go deep, delivering value to new projects.
  • There appears to be a balance between technical and functional roles. Demand is rising for both.
  • The “type” of technology being implemented is leading-edge vs. mainstream, with many cloud and AI projects and supporting business transformation initiatives. (although most organizations had to move their business transformation initiatives up earlier than they might have wanted to support work from home, etc. in 2020)
  • Contract hiring activity was slow-paced last year, but is now picking up its speed-to-hire. This will become critical as the market heats up this year. Companies who are slow to make hiring decisions will lose top candidates to others who are motivated to hire quickly.
  • As mentioned above, last year saw some downward pressure on contractors’ rates. This year we expect this to rebound. How far and how fast depends on the speed with which the economy rebounds.  All indications are that the economy is in for a strong improvement; rates will tend to follow.
  • Hiring organizations are more open to remote workers. This is a direct impact of the COVID accommodations that the entire world had to manage.  Companies have learned how to operate effectively using people working remotely from one another.  Organizations are able to cast a wider net for talent by adopting a work-from-anywhere approach.
  • Finally, we are seeing a change whereby job seekers are more active. People have been hunkered down, happy to have a stable position (if they were working through 2020).  These people were not looking to make a move, afraid of jumping from the frying pan into the fire!  This is rapidly changing as opportunities begin again to expand.  People are open again to considering new opportunities that will allow them to learn new skills and/or advance their careers.

All in all, 2021 appears to be highly promising for BC, Vancouver, and the IT industry as a whole as we bounce back from the impact of the slowdowns of this past year.

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!