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The Skills Shortage

Lively debate abounds on this issue. A few short years ago the tech industry was facing huge shortages in technology resources, companies were paying crazy signing bonuses, installing every amenity known to man just to keep their people and still had problems! The dot bust happened, the accounting scandals and a recession coupled with the demise of the communications industry bubble and the labor market swung. There were people laid off every day in huge numbers and signing bonuses became a thing of the past ... until now!

So, is there a skills shortage or a skills surplus today? Are there companies unable to find the people that they need ... absolutely and in many industries, the number is growing and those skills in demand are becoming a rare commodity. Are there qualified technology resources unemployed, underemployed and looking for work ... yes! So what is going on?

It's not really any different than the boom times of the internet. We heard companies screaming for resources, but the "older technology" workers just could not do the job. Technology gets old really fast ... so people become obsolete really fast and unless you can somehow translate your skills to match those in demand your marketability decreases very rapidly. What is hot today may well bear little resemblance to the "in demand skills" of yesterday, hence the disconnect between supply and demand. The issue is complicated ... we have the factors above, we have a coming hit to the workforce from retiring baby boomers, offshoring of work to India, China and other "low cost countries" is impacting many industries, particularly technology and manufacturing.

The debate that I have seen in the local Ottawa technology scene is focused on attaching blame and reaching a way to fix the problem. There is no quick answer! Training is a long term solution ... we encouraged all kinds of kids to go and take tech courses four years ago, and they graduated to the worst economy in years with no job prospects. What do we say this time ... hey don't worry, it will be OK this time around? I hate the concept of Government handouts, they don't ever seem to result in long term solutions. Personal responsibility is tough when you worked hard to gain skills that are no longer in demand, but it's a harsh reality in a world that is probably more competitive today than I have seen in 25 years in the tech business. Business has a responsibility to its employees, to its clients and to its shareholders ... it can't afford to "beef up" with under-skilled workers and still compete in today's environment.

So ... do I have an answer. Probably not a palatable one to most, and really all parties need to do what they can to help. But at the end of the day I believe that every individual is responsible for their own future. If I found myself unemployed with limited prospects then I would retool and reinvent myself, do what it took to survive and then thrive. I don't see any other answer.