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Paul Swinwood was then President of the Software Human Resources Council, which has since been re-named the Information and Communications Technology Council with an expanded mandate and with Paul Swinwood as its President.
First, here are my notes on the questions and answers. My comments come afterwards.
Business At Night
We are going to focus a little on employment numbers in the Ottawa region in particular - but across the country as a whole as well. If you thought that the employment growth numbers of 97,000 for May were surprising, you should take a closer look at the growth numbers in the tech sector alone where the Canadian tech sector now is boasting an unemployment rate hovering around 1.9%, which is …well better than the national overall unemployment rate which is hovering around 6%.
(NOTE: current hi tech unemployment rate for Ottawa-Gatineau is not mentioned anywhere in the broadcast).
Q: These numbers tell you that the tech sector is doing something that other industries in Canada not doing. Why is the demand for employees in the tech sector so strong?
Paul Swinwood: The demand is very, very strong for tech people with the package which includes all parts of the IT milieu. Companies are finally starting to realize that productivity comes with a lot of computerisation. The demand is for the tech person to implement the business practices with the IT skills, business skills and who knows the impact of what IT is about.
Q: Is there no such thing as being over-qualified in the tech sector?
Paul Swinwood: One of the challenges is that you can become under-qualified very quickly; training and skills upgrading; being on the edge of what is going on is a fact of life in this sector.
Q: We like to profile local high tech businesses in Ottawa-Gatineau, among other things. In this region, there are a lot of hi tech businesses who all report substantial growth over the last number of years. It seems since the dot com boom in 2000, 2001 there were some bruised businesses for a short period of time, but many businesses took that as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, trim the fat, streamline their operations and they’ve come out leaner and meaner and now we’re in a position where it’s becoming a challenge for C.E.O. s to find enough qualified new employees.
Paul Swinwood: That s what we re seeing across the country. The problem with the new and qualified employees is that they have significantly different skill sets compared with what was there during the boom ending in 2001. Companies now require « the package » rather than just a techie with a one-product focus.
Q: You and Jeffrey Dale of OCRI are telling us that in some cases there are still challenges facing prospective employees as they look for a job. What are some of those challenges?
Paul Swinwood: Some of the challenges are: they must have good communication skills, talk the language that the hiring companies are looking for. They must have the complete mix of good communicator, being a good tech person, understanding the business and being able to deliver..
Q: What is reason for resurgence in tech sector and this unprecedented growth – is it just a sign of the times and that Canada is well positioned to serve and grow in this market segment or is it a shift of our economy to focus more on the high tech sector, or is there still plenty of room for other industries to follow this kind of model and prosper?
Paul Swinwood: There is lots of room (in everything), as long as we continue to focus on productivity. There is the demographics of the baby boomer retirement happening, fewer young people available, we are focussing on how you bring internationally educated people on board and up to speed. It’s a real challenge for everybody. A lot of businesses, e.g. retail (article this past weekend), are having trouble finding people. Much of the focus at SHRC is on attracting the young people that we have; there is a real challenge getting young people. Young people’s demands are different these days - different from what those with grey hairs wanted.
Q: (Here are) some statistics for employment rates throughout last 5-6 years: unemployment rates in tech sector were below 6% even during the worst of times following the dot com boom, which was also below the national average for all other jobs. Taking account of this, baby boomer retirement and other demographics, is it safe to say that young people entering the tech sector can guarantee themselves a long term and successful year?
Paul Swinwood: I d be hesitant to use the term guarantee but one of the issues for people getting in to the tech sector now is finding that first job. You may have to look in places where you haven’t looked before. You can get in on the ground floor of what is expected to be a very interesting next 5-10 years.
Q: Companies are growing at such a rate that it is difficult to find enough qualified employees. Is Canada well positioned in the next decade or two to take advantage of this growth sector?
Paul Swinwood: Well, we’re not. We have seen such a significant backlash caused by the presentation of the tech downturn, such that there is a very significant reduction of people taking tech-oriented courses at colleges and universities. The forecast is for only 50% of the number of graduates in 2003 to come out in 2007. As this growth in Canada continues, we expect a. very difficult time filling the jobs.
Q: What is the answer to this - outsourcing more jobs, encouraging more immigrant employees, or should governments and post secondary educational institutions encourage more people to enter the sector?
Paul Swinwood: More of the industry companies have to get involved in getting people into the sector. The old days of bringing people in and providing them with some of the skills upgrading and training they need before they could hit the ground running will happen again. Companies are setting up their own schools, in partnership with the colleges and universities, where they hire the employee, give them the skills training they need and then have them hit the ground running. It may take a few months, as opposed to the last little while where companies have been expecting to hire people and expecting them to hit the ground running the day they start.
Q: I assume it would be safe to encourage young people to explore this sector given that there will be abundant opportunities for years to come?
Paul Swinwood: There will be abundant opportunities and the interesting thing is they re not just in the high tech companies themselves. We are looking for informatics skills in health care. The health care sector is looking at a massive implementation of computerisation, a productivity improvement that the health care sector needs to do; so people with an IT and health care background will be in great demand.
Analysis by Robert T. Chisholm: -
1. There are some encouraging signs - especially for young people. Another interesting point is signs of revival of interest on the part of companies in the in-house training issue - and for that matter, co-op arrangements to address unavoidable skill set mis-matches - on the other hand this is as yet probably happening on a very small scale compared with what we actually need in general.
2. There is no mention of the numbers of job applications for every job, no mention of the true numbers out of work, no mention of how those let go during the bust are doing, no mention of the incidence of under-employment and no mention of how many people might be involved in struggling start-up companies. There is also still no system for making valid counts of all the people involved.
3. They mention the current average NATIONAL unemployment rate in the tech sector as 1.9% and a NATIONAL increase in employment (across all trades and professions) as 97,000 for the month of May.
However, the comparable figures for Ottawa s high tech sector are not mentioned, contrary to what was suggested at the beginning of the interview.
4. In general, this interview seems to show how, once again, the absence of a proper system for tracking and reporting on the true unemployment / under-employment picture can be used to paint a rosy picture which is not necessarily justified.
5. They talk about opportunities for young people and baby boomers retiring, which is fine when taken at face value.
However, the problems faced by older workers, or the numbers of such people involved, are conveniently not mentioned.