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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.