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Regional Job Market Update for Ottawa, Ontario (October 2021)

There is no question that the Ottawa job market right now is incredibly hot, with an outstanding number of opportunities, specifically for skilled technology contractors and those IT professionals looking to expand their career in the consulting field. Organizations, government departments and companies across the National Capital Region are all feeling the crunch to find top talent.

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, private organizations and crown corporations are feeling things return to "normal", and as a result, are cautiously picking-up projects and pushing business forward. Because there remains uncertainty in these unpredictable circumstances, many of them have opted to lower their risk by engaging contractors rather than expand their employee headcount. Government as well is picking up projects, especially those working on COVID-19 related tasks and those building out the digital transformation they were forced to expedite at the onset of the pandemic.

But a high demand isn't necessarily the only reason for the hiring challenges seen by organizations across the NCR. Low supply of IT contractors also plays a factor. While companies are lowering risk by working with contractors, some IT professionals are mitigating their employment risks by doing the opposite, and going into permanent positions, where there's a perception of better job security if the economy goes sideways.

Another reason there appears to be a lower supply of skilled contractors in Ottawa is because of remote work. Like many cities around the world, the reality of remote work has changed the way employers recruit and candidates job hunt, but Ottawa has seen some unique consequences. Contractors, like everyone else world-wide, are recognizing that they can work for companies in completely different cities (or simply on the other side of the same city), who offer different projects and sometimes more attractive rates. Hiring organizations; however, and specifically government and crown corporations, are less able to take advantage of remote talent pools. They almost always have a requirement for contractors with a level of federal government security clearance, and the very large majority of candidates who hold one are only in Ottawa... working for other clients remotely. The fact that the feds' process to clear individuals and businesses is cumbersome, and the department responsible for security clearances is eternally backlogged, further hurts their ability to grow their own pool of talented contractors.

Overall, as many projects are well underway, in-demand skills remain consistent across the region. The government continues to have a focus on migrations, digital transformation and building efficiencies. Private organizations and crown corporations also have a number of digital transformation and solution development projects in the works. Project Managers, Business Analysts and Developers (JavaScript and React are hot) are most regularly requested across the private and public sectors, and everybody is seeking Agile experience. Anything DevOps is one of the hottest skills in demand right now, as well as Big Data, Business Intelligence, and AI as companies compete to deliver the best experience to their customers. We are also seeing many opportunities requiring CRM experience (specifically Salesforce) and Cloud experience (Azure, AWS and Google are all hot, with Azure in a little more demand because of the government).

All that to say, companies and organizations across Ottawa have been working harder recently to fill their projects. And once they get the right person, turnover rates are also incredibly high, potentially due to less loyalty in a remote work environment where nobody really builds the same depth of relationships. We're seeing more and more IT contractors jump ship for more interesting projects and higher paying jobs, despite the fact it tarnishes their reputation and risks legal challenges. In fact, one could perceive that the low supply of contractors is merely an illusion, and the reality is that more IT professionals are just unethically moving around from contract-to-contract and a fast pace.

So, what does all of this mean, in an environment we don't often see in Ottawa? For hiring managers across all organizations, the number one piece of advice we can give is to make hiring decisions fast. Skilled, talented contractors have multiple opportunities at once, so any delay in committing to them will result in losing out.

While IT contractors do have more control right now and you can pick-up contracts that you may not have otherwise been qualified for, we would caution you not to let the good times get the best of you. Apply to jobs as usual, with detailed resumes highlighting your skills and be open about those you lack. More importantly, as a professional, it's still crucial for your long-term reputation that you commit to your contracts, regardless of your temptation to move to a shinier object. The market will even out, and we expect to see this sooner rather than later, especially in government departments where COVID spending will catch-up and budgets will have to be slashed. Ottawa is a relatively small town in the IT space and the relationships you break now will come back to haunt you later. It's also worth keeping in mind that a resume with short projects and nothing longer than a year can raise flags for recruiters when evaluating you in the future.

Our final piece of advice for independent contractors is around multiple contracts. As an independent business, it's normal to have multiple clients and working remotely makes it easier to juggle them. But ensure you are serving all of your clients in accordance with your contracts and billing appropriately. Nation-wide, we've seen IT contractors take on more than they can handle which negatively impacts their career and reputation. This post provides some more helpful information on the topic.