May 1, 2008
Canada’s private sector needs to recognize the importance of the information and communications technologies (ICT) sector in order to enable improvements throughout all sectors of the economy, says a senior official with Industry Canada.
Speaking at the recent IT360 Conference & Expo in Toronto, Keith Parsonage, Director General of the ICT branch, said Canadian businesses as a whole are not investing in, adopting and exploiting its benefits to the extent needed.
“Businesses must do better,” he said. “Our economic growth since 1997 has more than doubled the demand for ICT workers. However, since the ‘dot com’ bubble burst we are seeing a decline in the number of students going into major programs which support the growth of this sector.”
Parsonage cited a report scheduled for release this summer from the Information and Communications Techology Council entitled the Outlook on Human Resources in the ICT Labour Market: 2012-15.
Dr. Jacob Slonim of Dalhousie University, author of the report, warns that that the sustainability of the ICT workforce is in jeopardy due to the decline in undergraduate enrolments in computer science.
“Further, the study concludes that unless this trend is quickly reversed, the reduction in graduates for the ICT workforce will persist deep into the next decade,” Parsonage said.
He added that one suggested cause of enrolment decline is a “poor perception” of employment in the ICT sector.
Parsonage also applauded the recently formed Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s IT Skills that “addresses the growing and increasingly serious shortage of IT professionals.”
“If left uncontested, the IT skills gap will create gaps in our economic performance, gaps in our productivity, and gaps in our ability to compete globally. It is in everyone’s interest to close those gaps as quickly as possible,” said Stephane Boisvert, President, Bell Enterprise Group and spokesperson for the coalition when it first launched in January.
The economic impact of an IT labour shortage has been outlined in a new Conference Board of Canada study commissioned by Bell Canada. The report, entitled “Securing our Future,” examines the economic cost of not filling the estimated 90,000 IT positions set to open across Canada over the next five years.
The repercussions to the Canadian economy will be severe if those positions go unfilled, said Dr. Michael Bloom, Vice President, Organizational Effectiveness and Learning for the Conference Board of Canada.
“Having a local university in the region able to crank out grads with science and engineering degrees would be helpful, but it is certainly not enough,” said Parsonage. “Effective development of knowledge workers must be done on a wide scope at the factory floors in the research labs, on the loading docks, in the call centres and at the Web media design studios.”
In a wide-ranging speech, he also commented on a number of other issues and developments including:
• The federal government’s plan to auction the Advanced Wireless Services spectrum, which is designed to enable greater competition and further innovation in the industry.
• How Canada evolved into a network economy starting in March 1999 when it became the first country in the world to connect all of its schools and public libraries to the Internet.
• Despite that achievement, why a digital divide still exists. There are, he said, families with lower incomes, people with disabilities, the elderly and new immigrants and many face barriers in accessing PCs and the Internet.
• The need to pay more attention to environmentally sensible ways of manufacturing ICTs and employing them to improve environmental practices, energy and resources consumption.
“I’m not going to dwell on it, but I want to emphasize that there is a pressure in the ICT industry,” he said. “Consumer market pull and the push from technological innovations are combining to drive an evolution in networks and services.
“For example you may be using Wi-Fi today, Wi-Max is already being rolled out as its replacement. Both will be followed in the not-too-distant future by alternative and even higher throughput networking technologies. In fact, many of the emerging technologies will increase, as a minimum, the capacity of existing information and communication pathways. We can only begin to guess what other innovations will occur as a result of this one factor.”