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Desperately looking for talent

Information-technology sector struggles with low unemployment rate

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There is a problem with unemployment in the information-technology sector in Manitoba -- it's too low.

In 2011, Manitoba's information and communication technologies (ICT) sector had 2.4 per cent unemployment.

That meant there was full employment and good luck to any employer who needed to hire specially skilled workers.

The industry is expecting a growth spurt and many of the skills needed are in short supply -- mobile technology will be especially in demand during the next few years.

The Information Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba (ICTAM) needed to regroup to come up with a strategy to approach the next few years.

On Friday, ICTAM released a strategy document emanating from a survey of more than 200 members and industry stakeholders.

Not surprisingly, accessing talent is the top priority for the sector.

"Talent is working capital for the sector," said Kathy Knight, the organization's CEO. "The industry is entering a growth period and there is a shortage of the right skills."

Karna Gupta, the president of the national industry group, the Information Technologies Association of Canada (ITAC), said these issues are consistent coast to coast.

"Access to talent is the biggest struggle," said Gupta, who is in Winnipeg for ICTAM's annual meetings.

He said that struggle for talent is already a global battlefield.

"Ten years ago, people from around the world came to study in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. Typically, they would stay and contribute to those economies where they completed their studies," Gupta said. "Now they are going back to their home countries where, in many cases, there is more intense economic growth."

ICTAM's 15-page strategy document describes the approach broadly with four headings: educate, collaborate, advocate and elevate.

The skills gap is an issue the sector has been dealing with for some time. Chuck Loewen, CEO of the Winnipeg IT firm Online Business Solution and the chairman of ICTAM, said there was a bit of a recession in the sector after the Y2K scenario but there has been steady growth since then.

And while education in science, technology, engineering and math is on an upswing, more needs to be done on the education side.

One of the most innovative suggestions in the report is for the creation of an apprenticeship program for information-technology workers.

"It is an idea that has immense merit," Loewen said.

"There is lots of interest from the business community when we socialize that concept and there is interest from the province as well. They have those programs in place."

Knight said one of the reasons an apprenticeship program is attractive is that technology changes so fast post-secondary institutions can't keep up with the pace.

"We have been hearing that companies want to get people started on the jobs and spend more time at work and less time at school," she said. "Companies are willing to make that investment."

Education may be the key element but the ICTAM strategy is to get the IT sector to collaborate more with other sectors and to encourage greater use of IT services.

In particular, the provincial group wants to encourage the local economy to use local service providers

Gupta said the industry needs to be able to build larger entities and often those kinds of companies start by serving the regional market until they get large enough to be competitive in the global market.

He said Canada has produced world-class companies, such as BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, despite the fact the economy continues to rely on the resource sector.

"If you go back several years ago as a nation we were agriculture and mining, we still are and all the resources we had were underground or on the ground," Gupta said.

"Tomorrow's economy, the resources you need are above the ground, meaning human resources and the skill set is very critical to drive them."


ICT in Manitoba


22,500 -- number of people employed by the ICT sector in Manitoba

1,500 -- number of ICT firms in Manitoba

$800 million -- annual revenue of those firms

$200 million -- export revenue

$1.29 billion -- direct contribution to the provincial GDP

10 per cent -- rate of employment growth in the sector

36 -- average number of employees per firm (up from 20 employees 10 years ago)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 B4


Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 6:41 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds video

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