Dr. Morven Gentleman on Canada’s Tech Worker Shortage

I asked Dr. Morven Gentleman for his comments on the shortage of IT graduates in Canada.  He very graciously responded and has given me permission to post his comments here.

This is a real and serious problem, but unfortunately it is not new.

I was on the Board of Directors of the Software Human Resource Council for nearly 10 years. (My term ended this June.)  SHRC has recently changed its name to ICTC to reflect a broadening of its mandate to cover hardware as well as software.

Beginning about 1990, SHRC did surveys of numbers of people employed in the software industry in Canada, as well as surveys of employers as to what future prospects were.
Since 2000, these surveys have been carried out monthly by Statistics Canada, so the data is authoritative and solid.

There are roughly 550,000 jobs in the IT industry in Canada. The biggest drop during the telecom meltdown in 2001, was substantially less than 50,000 jobs, so the situation was never as bad as the press painted it, and in fact that job loss was made up for in a few months. The current employment in the sector (Sept 2006) are far above the maximum employment in the “dot.com bubble”. Surveys of employers show that demand will continue to grow through 2010 and beyond.

Unfortunately, this message doesn’t seem to get through to students choosing university programs. All across North America, enrollment in Computer Science programs fell dramatically during the bursting of the dot.com bubble, and have not recovered at all. Enrollments at many universities are now below half of what they were in 2000. Both in the US and Canada, this trend has been noted with dismay, but nobody seems to have any effective ideas of what to do about it. The press still comes out with unfounded claims that there are no jobs in IT, when the reality is that in particular specialities, the unemployment rate is as low as 2% or even 1%.

One possible approach is to rethink the curriculum, and offer new programs that are more in line with what companies assert they want in new hires. In that vein, Dalhousie Faculty of Computer Science introduced a new program, “Bachelor of Informatics” in September 2006. The new program is popular with the students enrolled in it, but it remains to be shown that such efforts will produce enough additional graduates to make up for the shortfall highlighted in the article you cite.

%d bloggers like this: