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Canadian IT Job Market - December 2006

This is Eagle's monthly look at the IT job market across Canada, as written by Eagle's Regional executives:

IT talent from Eastern and Central Canada are still finding good opportunity in the Western provinces. IT Professionals are traveling West more often - as the economy in the West proves itself to be the "real deal", candidates are showing much less reluctance to relocate. Wage rates have been steadily inching higher. This is evidenced by a number of long term (10 months+) contractors taking contract extensions and successfully renegotiating modest wage increases. As long as labour continues to relocate to the West satisfying the growing demand, wage rates are expected to continue to grow in a manageable manner.

The Oil & Gas sector remains hot. There has been noticeable bipolar tendencies within the Energy sector with some companies recognizing their requirements to be "long-term" with an interest in investing in full-time employees; while some companies have decided to leverage contract staffing to hedge against the potential risk of an industry turn-down, these companies do not wish to overextend themselves by increasing their IT permanent hires. This has resulted in an increase in both permanent and contract hiring activity in November. On the West Coast, government hiring activity is on the rise while in Edmonton private enterprise is out-stripping the typically strong government sector.

Across the West, we have seen several examples of hiring organizations getting out-bid for skilled candidates. Candidates have received multiple offers, counter offers and even post-close offers. For the hiring company this can be quite disappointing, frustrating and time consuming as the candidate search must begin all over again. It is not necessarily suggested that organizations "up" their rates as a bidding war is not in their best interest; however, there are other things that can be considered to help manage this phenomenon. Examples include: reducing decision making time; asking for quick and firm commitments from qualified candidates; and identifying a primary and a backup choice whenever possible. Contractors have an opportunity at this time to demonstrate their professionalism through open communication and by candidly setting realistic expectations with respect to their availability and interest in the proffered position. Handled badly, a negative reputation can be developed that can and will follow a contractor throughout their career.

The hot skills for Western Canada include: .NET, Project Managers and Testers across all provinces. Specifically, British Columbia is in need of Java resources; Alberta has requirements for people with Oracle, SAP, Agile, Biztalk, MCMS and SharePoint skills; and in Saskatchewan/Manitoba there is demand for Business Analysts. Depth of experience and strong communication capabilities are still very highly regarded, however, many companies interested in hiring relatively inexperienced technicians with the hope that they might train, develop and retain them as long-term employees.

Hiring activity over the past month continues to be busy within the GTA particularly with a high demand for full-time resources, as well as, steady government RFP activity. With the number of RFPs being issued, an increase in government hiring activity is expected over the next couple of months. There has also been a noticeable increase in activity both in the Telco and Utility sectors. On the contrary, the hiring activity within the Financial sector is experiencing a definite slow-down as new budgets are finalized. An increase in hiring activity within this sector is expected come in the New Year.

The competition for top-talent remains steady both on the contract and full-time side. Interviewing organizations within the GTA continue the slow-hiring trend and continue to be surprised when candidates are no longer available or turn down their offers. There is a definite disconnect between the two markets though it is interesting that the average length of contracts and extensions has increased in an effort to retain top-talent. A more recent trend, that is perhaps also an effort to speed up the process, is that hiring organizations are conducting telephone interviews prior to face-to-face interviews.

Candidates continue to enjoy the opportunities for choice in the current market with those high in-demand, sitting with two to four offers at any given time. They continue to hold out for better offers. Pay rates also continue to be on the rise, though only slightly higher. Not only has the trend been for longer term contracts but extensions to existing contracts are also longer in duration. In the past, extensions have been month-to-month or up to three months. In today's market, organizations are locking in contractors for up to a year, a significant change!

Hot skills in the GTA on the contract side include: PMs, SAP, BAs, QAs and Technical Writers. In-demand skills on the full-time hiring side continue to include PMs, as well as, Java Developers.

As the calendar year winds down, we have seen a very active month of November in Eastern Canada both on the contract and now full-time hiring side with a number of organizations looking for resources to help deliver long-term projects through final stages. The challenge has been integrating the market's recent increase in many rates into fixed price legacy projects or contracts that have been merely extended without benefit of a "refresh" in price. The SAP market is one such market and a number of organizations have opted to attempt to attract SAP candidates into full-time positions but with the abundance of diverse projects and the increased demand for SAP contractors right across the country, few are receptive to full-time positions. In contrast, however, there has been in other perhaps less heated areas, a flux of contractors moving into full-time positions as a number of companies over the past year have opted to hire their contract resources on full-time. A middle ground solution still yet sees other companies offering longer term contracts wherever possible to mitigate contract jumping without committing to net new hires.

Healthcare technology, which has long been predicted to be a huge growth area in technology, seems to be coming to fruition. Both the Federal and Provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec along with several health agencies are ramping up now with RFPs that will lay the groundwork for some massive technology projects that will prevail over the next several years. With upwards of 250 deaths a year in North America due to technical errors, the initial focus will be on healthcare record management systems that have wireless mobile technology at their heart. There has also been a number of Security and Cyber protection based RFPs in Ottawa of late and we will no doubt continue to see increased attention in this field throughout the new year.

Skills in demand in Eastern Canada include SAP-HR and Financial modules, Oracle Financials, JAVA/J2EE programmers, as well as, Siebel resources.