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The Canadian IT Job Market in June 2006

As the Canadian economy churns out employment figures, the likes of which we've not seen in 30 plus years as evidenced by the lowest unemployment rate since 1974, the same year ABBA was topping the charts with" Waterloo"(proving once again what's old can be new again), employers are faced with a number of interesting questions to ask themselves for both the short- and medium-term. For instance, although there is clearly booming job growth far exceeding most economic forecasts, there are some potential clouds on the horizon in rising interest rates, a slowing manufacturing sector and perhaps most worrisome, a slow down in the US economy. How best do employers forecast staffing levels given the contradiction of what's happening currently against what may be in store for the months ahead?

The technology job market continues to be even more of a challenge to predict. IT World Canada recently published a survey of over 3,000 Canadian IT professionals that indicated 53% of those currently employed are either actively or passively searching for their next job. Organizations across Canada concur and have indicated they too are concerned about losing key IT personnel as more opportunities are available, now with the accompanying upward pressure on wages. Factor this potential churn within IT shops with an already costly and longer time to hire and many companies are now looking more than ever to a variable workforce model using contractors to fill gaps while providing the flexibility needed, as a strategic solution to some of these challenges discussed.

Over the last month, Western Canada has seen a spike in IT hiring activity. A common explanation for this increased activity is that although last summer demonstrated little slowdown or rest in the IT sector, this year many IT managers and contractors are working towards project delivery schedules that have built-in significant downtime cycles, while teams take time off in July or August. In fact recently, there has been a clear pattern of contractors (at all levels) declining contract extensions or new projects, so that they can take 6-8-10 weeks off.

On the hiring side, there certainly is significantly more 'application-side' activity than 'infrastructure-side' activity, and there has been a strong demand for more technical resources (vs functional) in the last six weeks. This undoubtedly coincides with the very active demand for functional resources (i.e. Project Managers, Business Analysts, etc.) that was experienced in the West in February, March and April.

Another unrelenting trend is the desire for more organizations to hire 'permanent' resources instead of contractors. Many firms have even gone as far as actively luring contractors into accepting full-time positions with good success. This is somewhat surprising based on the market rates and labour market activity that currently exists in the West.

There has also been a surge in the demand for Technical Architects - data or enterprise, in Western Canada. The hiring of such resources will certainly lead to some very interesting projects for IT professionals in the months ahead, particularly in the mid-sized energy category.

In Central Canada, the quick approach of the vacation season has translated to a considerable slow down in the market. As is the case in the West, many contractors are also making the move to full-time employment in this region.

There is a clear indication that more projects are on the horizon as organizations tend to be hiring many high-level consultants such as Project Managers, Business Analysts and various types of Architects, which would imply the same foreshadowing that was recently experienced in Western Canada.

Current in-demand skills in Central Canada include: Technical Support Representatives and Systems Administrators with multi-platform experience.

In Ottawa, it now appears the long awaited Federal government IT procurement reform is on the near horizon with the first of three stages, the RFSO, to hit the streets in late June. As part of the overall government initiative termed "The Way Forward", PWGSC together with an American-based outside consultancy unveiled their intentions to industry players in early June. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on many of the current and pending Standing Offers and Supply Arrangements.

Hot skills in Eastern Canada of late, include: Java/J2EE Programmers in both Ottawa, and Montreal; Testers, SAP technical and functional resources, as well as Oracle and .Net Consultants for Halifax.

Lastly, there has been a disturbing trend among IT consultants that continues to create issues in the marketplace. The primary issue is that contractors are neglecting to fulfill their contract obligations and commitments and are leaving their projects and clients early to engage in new opportunities and make a few extra dollars. This is bad news for the entire IT industry and has the potential to create significant implications for all IT consultants for years to come. This unethical practice can adversely taint many organizations and managers resulting in the decision to decrease the use of contractors as part of their resourcing model. As a leader in the staffing industry, Eagle has taken a proactive approach and introduced the Eagle Certified Professional Contractor Program which includes adherence to a "Code of Conduct" for Contractors to specifically address this issue. It has been very well received to date by both hiring organizations and IT professionals.