The availability of ICT talent will not be sufficient to meet the hiring requirements over the next five years. There is also a continued concern of skills mismatch. ICTC’s in-depth consultation with industry and other stakeholders highlights several dimensions to these challenges and guides the way forward to a comprehensive, multipronged approach needed to overcome such challenges.

Not “upskilling”, but “right skilling”…

  • Skills mismatch is often influenced by the cyclical gap between demand and supply, and as such, all aspects of the mismatch must be addressed. ICTC’s Labour market Outlook Survey points out that 31% of surveyed employers face difficulty and/or delay in filling ICT positions due to the lack of suitable talent. With a growing incidence of graduate unemployment – although notably lower among ICT and STEM graduates – focus needs to shift to “right skilling” of the workforce. An appropriate skills strategy that is aligned with economic and digital strategies is crucial for Canada’s competitive strength. The importance of continuously updating the labour market forecast is paramount, particularly in an environment where the skills needs are constantly changing. This will contribute immensely to the Canadian economy by helping the educational system in particular prepare the talent needs of the future better.

Industry-led skills enhancement with a conducive policy environment essential…

  • Ineffective recruitment and training strategies are often liable for vacancies being difficult to fill. Canadian employers and in particular micro and SMEs find it the hardest to provide on the job training. Programs to support on-the-job training – through mechanisms such as wage subsidies – that improves the job-readiness of youth or enables ‘nearly qualified’ candidates to acquire necessary work-related skills are vital going forward.
  • Programs are needed that target youth at a younger age when they are still making decisions about their courses and career options, when they are being influenced by peers, teachers, and parents away from STEM in some cases due to misinformation about the opportunities.
  • Industry support is required in the design and delivery of responsive and diversified programs that focus on applied learning. It is widely perceived and acknowledge that the industry is a critical partner for validating relevance, improving quality, and increasing efficiency in skills training. Industry-educator partnerships, internships, co-op, and placement programs are mechanisms by which the matching of skills with jobs can be strengthened. In addition, both employed and job seeking people need continuous professional development and we human beings learn the best by doing. Employers must invest in and offer learning opportunities to their workforce.
  • The creation of innovation centres or talent incubators can bring together employers and jobseekers to provide hands-on experience. Traditional institution-based delivery is giving way to web-based delivery mechanisms. Employment services such as career guidance and placement are crucial to constraints to workforce entry. Work placements and internships are assuming even more prominent roles in strengthening the link between educators and employers. These hands-on training mechanisms need to be modernized so that they are not perceived as a source of cheap labor to the industry. On-the-job training is also crucial for improved skills match. Lifelong learning and training are crucial for continued workforce participation.
  • With many tasks becoming automated with the emergence of IOT and SMAAC, the demand is growing for information-processing and other high-level cognitive skills. ICTC’s Labour market Outlook Survey shows a sharp increase in the demand for “business” skills, including critical thinking, interpersonal communication, self-management, and the ability to learn. The right combination of business skills and technical skills contributes to successful performance in the workplace, as business skills enhance application of technical skills. These skills are sometimes considered even more important than technical skills for performance in the workplace. This has implications for the design of curriculum and its delivery, the combination of courses on offer, and their regular renewal.

A “ground up” approach needed to engage all available talent…

  • A conducive policy environment is needed for industry to finance and provide skills training. With putting several supportive measures in place, a culture of partnership needs to be built. Making compulsory employer representation on the governing boards and establishing employer advisory committees for all academic program so that updating and renewal of the curriculum reflect employer expectations will be beneficial.
  • Canada’s competitiveness depends on the skills level of its workforce. Enrolment in STEM programs has been disappointing for some time. Many businesses entities have outsourced ICT functions. Outsourcing is a principal vehicle for off-shoring Canadian ICT work and also significantly alters the regional distribution of ICT employment by locating work in regions where labour costs are lower. Off-shoring gets bandied around quite extensively in the media and it creates apprehension among parents and youth, who worry that ICT jobs are being outsourced. They are uncomfortable in choosing STEM-related career paths.
  • Women are 50% of the population, 47% of the overall Canadian workforce, yet greatly underrepresented in the ICT workforce. ICT professions face significant image and perception problems, including the view that these jobs are singularly computer-focused, male-dominated, lacking in social relevance, and predominantly anti-social. A gender-bias in STEM education and employment is widely known and thus there are few visible role models for young women. Concerted, cooperative promotion and outreach efforts are needed to counter the perceptions that there are fewer opportunities in STEM and ICT and that the careers are not stimulating. This is not an easy task and requires the industry to take an active role in communicating career paths more effectively. An outreach campaign is critical to reducing the negative perceptions that have become associated with careers in the ICT sector.
  • Many experts are of the opinion that providing incentives to employers to recruit members of specific group(s) may help with diversity of the ICT workforce. ICTC’s Labour Market Outlook Survey, however, illustrates that this may not be an option employers are likely to exercise. Over 90% of Canada’s ICT employers have no diversity recruitment policy in place. They may monitor the demographic composition of their staff and conduct additional outreach to underrepresented groups. When it comes down to making that vital hiring decision, however, they want to hire the best candidate regardless of gender, age, or race.
  • “Mid-stream” approaches – involving incentives to recruit members of certain diversity groups – do not have a successful track record of promoting inclusion and diversity in ICT professions. Only a broadly-based “ground-up” strategy – founded on a guardian-industry-educator partnership – has the potential to alter the current gender and age imbalances. There is a significant disjuncture between the prevailing perception of ICT careers as quintessentially technical occupations and the way that ICT occupations have transformed in recent years. This mismatch between prevailing perceptions and the new reality of what ICT careers are actually about limits the flow of talent into ICT and thereby perpetuate many of the skills shortages that characterize the ICT labour market. There is a significant lag between broader perceptions of ICT careers and understanding the actual nature of those careers and the capabilities they require.

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