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Canadian IT Job Market - October 2006

The following write-up is developed monthly with input from Eagle's three Vice Presidents responsible for the different regions across Canada.

It has proven to be a fascinating time in the Western Canada IT labour market over the last 4 to 6 weeks. Many people anticipated that after Labour Day the floodgates would open with endless IT contract opportunities, as well as, a massive race to hire additional full-time permanent IT staff. The good news is that for some organizations, this anticipated hiring frenzy has materialized and they have jockeyed to land the best IT talent for their teams. That being said, at a macro level, this overall expected surge has simply not transpired for reasons including project approval delays, shifting or re-evaluating of IT priorities and higher-level business considerations (i.e. the very recent impact of oil price changes and government claims of pending fiscal shortages). Or quite simply, the decision by IT executives to slow down the pace of projects and capital investments due to fears that their IT organizations are already operating at, or beyond, competent capacity.

One noticeable trend, resulting from some of the recent technology-side capacity issues, has been a clear and distinct move by many 'business-side' decision makers to pursue the execution of 'skunkwork' projects, without involving their IT groups. Business-side managers and executives have the funding and motivation to get new projects going but are lacking the resources from their internal groups and are outsourcing this expertise. This phenomenon is occurring primarily in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. It is anticipated that this trend will continue in the coming months.

The primary demand in the West is for Testers, Powerbuilder Developers and Help Desk resources in Vancouver; C# experts, Oracle resources, ITIL Specialists, Project Managers and Help Desk resources in Calgary and Edmonton; and Technical Support, Powerbuilder resources and Business Analysts in Winnipeg. SAP expertise, both functional and technical, also remains very active and hotly pursued in all Western Canadian cities.

The GTA unemployment rate in September matched that of the national average at 6.4% and remained below the Ontario unemployment rate (6.6%). Employment continues to lure Ontario residents out West for numerous opportunities in all industry sectors. Alberta alone had an unemployment rate of 3.5% in September, well below the national average. The technology sector within the GTA continues to feel the ramifications of this trend as consultants and employees make the move for the promise of better compensation. Having said that, employment in the ICT sector in the GTA is the third largest in North America following only New York and San Francisco (Source: E&B Data), so the GTA is a great place to be working in the technology arena!

Some of the activity that we saw through September included a fairly steady amount of contract hiring with a slight increase in RFP activity from both the Provincial and Municipal governments. This should translate into an increase in contract hiring activity over the next few months. On the full-time side, after a quiet summer, September saw a marked increase in activity with lots of new opportunities. This is a typical cycle and we can expect the increased activity to continue through the fall with normal slow-down for the Christmas period.
Current demand in the GTA on the contract side includes: SAP (all modules), Testers, Architects (Enterprise, Data and Technology), Java Developers and Project Managers. Hot skills within the full-time market mirror those of the contract side including: Java Developers and Project Managers, as well as, Cobol/IMS Developers, and Axapta and MS CRM consultants.

As autumn grabbed a hold of Eastern Canada, a recent conversation with one senior executive comes to mind. He can best be described as in the "autumn" of his career and was pondering his future, to retire or "rewire". As it were he has, to his surprise, multiple options available to him. As we approach what many call the 'perfect storm' in the workplace - the aging boomer workforce set to retire combined with an increasing skills gap, and fewer and fewer students choosing technology as a career path - many companies are looking strategically at how to keep the tremendous knowledge capital of their mature workers in order to mitigate labour shortages. Contracting, as an option, continues to be the most popular choice in this scenario allowing both the organization and the employee the flexibility that both may desire while retaining the organizational continuity and in some cases, competitiveness. It will be very interesting to see how organizations evolve with respect to older workers and their overall resourcing strategies in the years to come with 40% of the workforce becoming eligible to retire in 2010. At any rate, a reminder that youth is still served, as we saw twentysomethings become very rich when 'YouTube' became 'GooTube'.

Meanwhile a number of companies in Eastern Canada undertook significant new phases in current projects while still others are netting out the effects of more and more development pieces going off-shore. As you may well guess, this has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the IT market as companies and technology professionals try to understand its ramifications. Dynamic is perhaps the best way to describe it. Stay tuned!

It does, however, remain clear that the market continues to be competitive in certain technologies. SAP professionals, for example, have numerous options. This has resulted in increased pressure on both rates and length of contract, and quicker hiring turnaround time as organizations compete to attract consultants in this market.

In addition to SAP, other notable hot skills in Eastern Canada include: Change Management Consultants, PMs with telecommunications backgrounds and experience with MS solutions, JAVA Programmers and Security Consultants.