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Canadian IT Job Market - September 2006

This is Eagle's regular monthly cross Canada look at the IT labour market and includes an interesting debate in Western Canada about the validity of the "skills shortage" - enjoy!

Western Canada continues to be busy with IT labour market activity. Calgary remains to be the most active, closely followed by Edmonton and Vancouver. Permanent/full-time employees are more in demand today than IT contractors in many Western Canada cities including: Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. Applications experts are more in demand than infrastructure resources everywhere, too.

The reality is that the market has been the same for the last 3 to 5 months, maybe what's the real buzz then among IT executives in the west these days? Interestingly, a number IT hiring organizations/executives have begun to truly ask themselves whether or not the media endorsed 'IT labour market shortage' is fact or fiction. This fuels a fascinating debate and one that impacts every IT professional in the west since the implications drive the way organizations value the price of labour, the mechanisms they use to hire and keep talent (both full-time employees and consultants), and the business cases of the mid- to long-term resource planning models (i.e. outsource, offshore, in-house) they consider. Opinions voiced include: "The grass is always greener human philosophy means there is always ample supply of the right people hence no shortage can exist." to "A shortage would imply prices/rates/salaries go up over and above inflation - basic cause and effect. I can't think of one IT skill (including mainframe) that has NOT gone up in the last 12-18 months in Western Canada. How can that be if there's no shortage?"

For those organizations on the 'no shortage' side of the fence, the real metrics to measure include:

  • Has the total cost of ownership of my IT labour increased in the last 12 months?

  • Has the time to hire the right people that we need for our projects taken longer than it did 12-24 months ago?

  • Are projects taking longer to successfully complete today than previously? (If so, perhaps it's because hiring managers have 'settled' for what's available versus the right IT professional to do the role - a common occurrence these days!)

  • Has the productivity of my IT team increased in the last 6-12 months?

All these metrics can be valuable indicators towards truly determining if any real or perceived IT skills shortage is impacting an organization and at the root of being fact or fiction.

Based on the fact that a high percentage of staffing and IT consulting firms continue to aggressively invest in their operations by hiring more sales and recruiting professionals (including Eagle!), clearly the demand for IT labour is outpacing the current supply. That's good news for IT professionals - and it will continue to be good news for IT professionals as long as they stay current with their expertise and deliver real value to their projects/roles, don't get complacent or milk their contracts thereby crushing their personal reputation (unfortunately, in the west this is happening more frequently and being noticed more often by many companies) or overall lose sight of the true value/price proposition they bring to the table. Coincidentally - in Western Canada there are at least 11 MAJOR organizations that are in deep discussions/evaluations of potential offshore/outsource solutions solely because the current price of IT labour, in their opinion, has grown too high and they can't run a competitive IT shop with adequate ROI to the business units under current conditions. If all of these 11 companies (plus others) were to send their IT work elsewhere in the next 6-12 months as anticipated, the demand/supply equation may soon be in for a significant change in the west! In the meantime, enjoy the IT prosperity and stay humble.

With Fall upon us, recruitment activities are picking up in the GTA, after a small dip in momentum over the summer months. Recent employment statistics attribute the slowdown to the vacation-heavy summer months although there are strong indicators that the technology market experienced very little, if any slowdowns. It is apparent that job seekers activity is on the increase with significant increases in job applications since the beginning of September. There has also been an increase in job posting activity.

The Ontario Government has a number of initiatives in play and as they gain their project approval, they move into the final planning stages and closer to staffing those projects. This is a good sign of steady work ahead for contractors with the government!

The said 'IT labour market shortage', or is it a 'skills shortage', has also had a noticeable impact for the contract market of the GTA. Full-time positions are more prominent within the market, as they have been for the past few months. Organizations continue to favour full-time resources over contractors and many companies are transitioning many of the contractors on assignment to full-time positions. Many contractors seem to be open to the transition and seem to be looking for the security that goes with those jobs.

On the 'hot skills' front, SAP skills within the GTA are in very high demand, with other hot skills on the contract side: Basel PMs and Bas, Network Security and Ingenium resources. Full-time hot jobs include: Siebel, Java and DB2 DBAs.

As the summer winds down and we move into fall, there is clear sense of pause and perhaps cautious anticipation in the Eastern Canadian marketplace. Many see the Labour Day weekend as much a year end and fresh start as the New Year, not on the calendar as such, but surely in practice if not feel. There remains a lot of 'chatter ' or 'noise' in the market but many organizations are unsure whether the recent months of sometimes frenzied hiring will continue unabated or whether we're in store for a soft landing. Recent employment statistics in Ottawa suggest the former, as new technology jobs in the month of August drove down the local unemployment rate to 4.8%, bucking a national trend that saw the jobless rate increase in August. Ottawa added 2,500 new technology jobs in August. Many companies view September as a checkpoint in hiring plans and it is clear that the outlook for permanent hires will continue to be positive, which in turn, drains an already active contracting market, according to many companies reporting a shortage in the candidate marketplace.

As predicted here earlier, the Federal Government's procurement initiative, "The Way Forward", took a big step backward as the summer months saw things unravel. The news that AT Kearney's original $1.75M contract as prime consultants had ballooned to $24M resulted in a stream of front page media reports and led to the dismissal of the two high-profile industry consultants who were at the forefront of the initiative. The Federal Government has rightly decided to shelve reverse auctions as a feature in their efforts to remove $2.5 billion in procurement costs and they have re-engaged industry in their efforts to do so. Kudos to the feds! Consultants and suppliers, in the meantime, can expect the status quo to remain, at least for the short- to medium-term in Ottawa while PWGSC re-sets. In Montreal, perm hiring continues to be strong, particularly in the city's large aerospace industry, even as Bombardier struggles with lower global demand for their regional jets. There is a continued strong demand for contract technology resources in Montreal in the financial services and bank sector as many Quebec-based companies continue to implement new systems and software to comply with greater reporting regulations.

In demand skills in Eastern Canada include: Cognos Impromptu and Powerplay, SAS, Java, J2EE Developers, Functional Oracle Application Developers, as well as, SAP Consultan ts particularly in FI/CO and other financial modules.