Evidence of meeting #34 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was technology.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We'll call the meeting to order.

I'll just ask for the witnesses' indulgence for a moment. I'd like to welcome the new members to our committee: Chris Charlton, Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, Ryan Cleary, and François Lapointe. We look forward to your participation. It's a complete, new change of members, and we look forward to interacting with you.

We'd like to do a couple of things. I'll ask the clerk to distribute the budget for the study a little later on. On Wednesday, I will ask the members to approve the budget. I want you to have a look at it between now and then.

In addition, the first order of business, which will only take a brief moment, is to install a new vice-chair for the opposition party, the New Democratic Party. I will turn matters over to the clerk for a moment. Can you proceed, please?

3:30 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk

Pursuant to Standing Order 106(2), the first vice-chair must be a member of the official opposition.

I am now prepared to receive motions for the first vice-chair.

Madam Boutin-Sweet.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

I would like to nominate Mr. Chris Charlton.

3:30 p.m.

The Clerk

It has been moved by Madam Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet that Chris Charlton be elected first vice-chair of the committee.

Are there any further motions?

Is it the pleasure of the committee to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to)

I declare the motion carried, and Ms. Chris Charlton duly elected first vice-chair of the committee.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Having taken care of that order of business, we'll invite the witnesses to present.

We have on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills, David Ticoll; from the Information Technology Association of Canada, Karna Gupta, president and chief executive officer; and from Research in Motion, Morgan Elliott, director, government relations.

The practice is for you to present first for about five to ten minutes. Then we'll open it up to a round of questions, starting with the official opposition and followed by the Conservative Party, and going back and forth like that. Until the time has concluded, we'll proceed in that fashion. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

With that, I'll turn it over to you. Go ahead, please.

3:30 p.m.

David Ticoll Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I believe everybody has a copy of my presentation.

I am David Ticoll, executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills.

The focus of CCICT, as we call it, is Canada's information and communications technology skills challenges. Our thought leadership and programs have achieved significant real-world results, in no small measure due to our collaborative multi-stakeholder partnerships. Formed in 2008, CCICT includes 25 financially contributing corporate members—that is, industry members—plus universities, school boards, industry organizations, and professional associations, two of which as it happens are sitting with me today. We all came together to tackle a skills crisis.

With below 3% unemployment for most of the past decade, Canada's ICT labour market is very tight. Recent studies from several sources, including Industry Canada, reconfirm this reality.

It's not just about the ICT sector. From finance to natural resources, other sectors employ nearly half of Canada's 800,000 ICT workers. The ICT sector, some 5% of GDP, accounts for one-third of private sector R and D in Canada. In every sector, ICT professionals enable innovation and productivity growth. A tight ICT labour market limits the potential of our entire economy.

A major issue is that too few Canadian students choose today's ICT-related career paths. Enrollments in ICT-related post-secondary programs have yet to recover from a major collapse that occurred in 2001. Young women comprise well under 20% of enrollments in core technology programs. As I'll explain in a moment, demand for ICT professionals is changing in very exciting ways, but this news is not getting to the students, parents, and teachers who need it.

Finally, a global war for talent makes it increasingly critical, and challenging, to make it appealing and easy for foreign technology professionals to live in Canada.

This crisis can be resolved with a few small investments and policy initiatives. We should focus on three priorities in Canada.

First and most important, we need to fix the domestic skills pipeline by motivating more young Canadians to choose ICT-related careers. How do we do this? Well, the new narrative I just talked about needs to be communicated. Tech careers now are very different from the boring geeky image of yesteryear. They appeal to every taste and interest. A quarter of the jobs, from analysts to entrepreneurs and CEOs, are as much about business as about technology. Others combine information technology with life science, security, analytics, marketing, gaming, art and design—you name it—even politics. Students, parents, teachers, and the public at large need to hear this new narrative.

Second, we need to make it easier to recruit skilled foreign workers. Employers often need to bring in seasoned IT people with five to ten years of experience or more. In this fast-paced sector they can't afford to wait the six months it often takes for immigration approvals. Another issue is that too many foreign students in Canadian universities decide to leave the country after they graduate.

Third, we need to improve labour market information, and you can see my comments on that.

We are not starting from scratch on these three priorities. Regarding skilled foreign workers, we've seen very encouraging indications from government, thanks to this committee's work and also Minister Jason Kenney's recent statements.

Regarding the domestic skills pipeline, we have achieved some positive results at our organization, with two initiatives.

First, something we call CareerMash conveys the new ICT careers narrative with a catchy slogan: “Today's careers mash up tech with anything you imagine”. With compelling content at the CareerMash website and nearly 100 volunteers, along with our Quebec counterpart MaCarrièreTechno, we've delivered inspiring real life stories, in person, to nearly 10,000 students since our launch just last October.

The results are clear: 55% of participating students attest to increased interest in tech careers, and 85% of teachers and role models the we send into classrooms find the CareerMash narrative to be new and illuminating.

Second we are increasing the supply of business-tech hybrid graduates—that quarter of those 800,000 jobs. In 2009, a national committee that we organized of employers and universities designed Business Technology Management, an undergraduate degree program. It's now in ten universities from coast to coast, with three in Quebec and more on the way. Again, the results are in: BTM schools report significant gains in enrollment and student quality.

But this is just a start, and here is what we are proposing for you to think about. We believe we can definitively turn the tide on this by taking five additional steps, and kind of pull a switch over a period of a few years.

First of all, take that new narrative on ICT careers and make it national. The narrative we've introduced is accurate, illuminating, appealing, and it works. Industry groups in several other provinces besides southern Ontario, where we got this thing started, want to take it up. But it requires sustained government partnership, and needless to say, dollars.

In addition, ministries of education, school boards, and teachers should bring the narrative directly into career guidance programs and career-related content in all subjects in the curriculum.

Secondly, we need to make some changes in post-secondary programs. We have some gaps around communication, collaboration, and real-world learning in technical programs. A lot of those programs have a boot camp feel that leads to dropping out. These programs need to be changed. We need more co-ops, more internships, and more student-oriented business incubators. We need government support for some of these too, and incentives for employers to do these things.

Thirdly, we need to make it a lot easier and more attractive for highly qualified foreign professionals to come to Canada and stay here. Implement those plans to simplify and speed the entry of foreign skilled professionals. Provide compelling immigration incentives for foreign students. For example, we could forgive post-secondary fee premiums for those who build careers here, say, after having worked here for 10 years or what have you.

Fourthly, we need to innovate to get more frequent, more granular, and more accessible labour market information. One strategy that we advocate is to form a public-private-academia partnership to do this. There are our funding issues. There are data gathering issues. There are motivational issues. We need a new way to do this. Also, a big focus should be on disseminating the results, not just to academics and policy-makers, but also to the key people who need to make decisions about their own careers—students, parents, teachers, and so on.

Fifthly, this needs to be a big campaign, an “own the podium” style of campaign for digital economy skills. Our Olympic successes were fueled by an inspiring campaign that brought the country together, and we pulled it off. Imagine how Canada could build on this success to seize the golden rings of competitiveness in the 21st century digital economy. Think about it. Brain power is the natural resource of the knowledge economy. To build Canada's reserves we propose a time-limited, multi-stakeholder, highly focused project team with clear objectives, a mandate to act, program budgets, and measurable target results.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation. There are certainly some interesting initiatives that you have undertaken, and suggestions for the committee. Communicating today's new narrative is important. I know that involving students, parents, teachers, and the public at large is obviously important.

Thank you.

Mr. Gupta, go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Karna Gupta President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members. I'm very pleased to be here. Thank you for inviting ITAC to this forum. It's a very important discussion that we're having regarding skills and talent.

As you know, ITAC represents the Canadian technology and ICT industry. Our membership is over 350 companies across Canada. This group of companies in the ICT sector produces over 5% of GDP, as you heard, and creates over 750,000 jobs. I'll put it in terms of dollars. We make about $140 billion of revenue, which contributes to the economy. However, in our membership, 65% of our members are small and medium-sized companies, which are dealing with the skills and talent issue on a regular basis.

I know you have heard from several witnesses over the last little while, such as Industry Canada and Statistics Canada. The skills gap is a common issue and common thread that I hear from all of our members. Some of the reports I've seen indicate that over the next 10 to 12 years you're looking at over 160,000 shortages—jobs that need to be filled in this sector. This issue is very real for our members, and they deal with it on a regular basis. If we're going to be building a knowledge economy, it is extremely critical that we build not only our own resources internally, but that we also compete globally to attract the talent to come here. Canada needs to be a destination for a skilled workforce. There are several key areas we need to address.

First, we need to have much better information in terms of emerging ICT jobs. Often we do a lot of studies that are based on jobs and NOC codes that look backwards to yesterday's jobs. We need to know where the puck is going, rather than where the puck has been. This industry is changing very quickly. We need to have a view of where the emerging technologies are going.

Second, we need to have skilled talents available through our own growth in our universities and high schools, as David mentioned before. Also, a significant effort needs to go into retraining.

Finally, we need to acquire additional talent through responsive and timely immigration. We need to attract talent globally.

As you know, there are some shortcomings in the way we gather labour market information. When I talk about the market information that's available, quite simply, we need better information on supply and demand. We need to match the supply and demand relative to the ICT sector. We need better forecasting on what the jobs will be in the future. If you think back on our educational institutions' internship programs, we can prepare our youth for tomorrow's future and for the ICT sector.

Our industry is very dynamic and jobs change at a very quick pace. A recent study commissioned by Industry Canada indicated that the students need more real-world experience. We need to have some policy framework that allows young companies to offer jobs to the young students in this sector, and keep them in the sector. We also need to support a cooperative internship program among academia and the private sector.

It is always important to measure against the benchmarks we have seen in other countries, and there are several countries that are attracting foreign talent on a much larger scale than we have been.

In the immigration area, we need to do some fast-tracking, an exemption of LMOs for the ICT sector and for inter-company transfers. The reason this is critical is that our members often need foreign talent to get certain jobs done now. They cannot wait three or six months; the projects are over. So when the need for talent comes, we need to find a way to bring fresh talent here on an ongoing basis.

Often in the ICT sector—after 32 years of being in industry—this pyramid is often built from the top down. If you attract top talent, they'll bring 200 other jobs with them. If you don't have the top talent available in the country, they cannot build the organizations, research, or processes where young people will come and join them. It is extremely critical for us to import the best of the breed into the country.

Finally, in closing, Canada's ICT sector continues to be strong, and at the same time we need to take some very specific actions to build on our ability to compete in the world. Addressing this skills gap will be vital to our success in the future.

We need better information and programs to ensure that we have the skills that will be in great demand for the future. ITAC would be pleased to draw upon our members and experience to help you with any assessment you need to do.

I would like to thank the chairman and the forum for asking me to come and present this today. Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

Certainly, better forecasting with respect to supply and demand is important. I might ask where the puck will be in the next five years in your industry, but we'll leave that to other members.

Mr. Elliott, on behalf of Research in Motion, go ahead.

3:45 p.m.

Morgan Elliott Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for inviting Research in Motion to this committee.

For those of you who may not have heard of Research in Motion or read the news lately, we are a global leader in wireless innovation. Actually, we invented this entire industry that you probably wear on your hip. I see a lot of BlackBerrys, and I am very happy to see such enlightened committee members using our devices.

To give you a sense of RIM's scope, our products and services are used by more than 77 million people, each and every day, across the globe. We work with over 600 carriers, and we're located in over 175 countries.

Let me give you a sense of the scope of RIM's presence in Canada.

You may be aware that Research in Motion is the largest R and D spender in Canada. We spend approximately $1.5 billion a year in research and development. We also offer more co-op placements than any other private sector company in the country. And we are one of NSERC's largest industrial research partners in terms of their programs across the country for partnering with universities.

We compete in a highly competitive global smart phone market, and we are in a global battle for talent. While we streamlined some of our functions last year, we currently have multiple job openings on our website, including many R and D jobs that we would prefer to locate here in Canada, as we maintain the bulk of our R and D activities here in Canada.

Nearly two-thirds of our employee base is here, and nearly half of those who live in Canada and work for us are directly engaged in R and D. But if we can't find the right candidate in Canada, we also have to consider hiring workers that result in the offshoring of jobs.

Some of the positions we are looking for are engineer specialists, test specialists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, LTE modem developers—it's a very long list of highly skilled people that we're looking for.

In Canada, unfortunately, we continue to see declining enrollment in the so-called STEM disciplines you've heard about—science, technology, engineering, and math—making it more difficult for Canadian technology companies to find talent. As a result, the Canadian tech sector suffers.

We need to turn around the negative cultural perception that science and technology programs are for boring, awkward geniuses who work in their parents' basements. Because far from that, this is an absolutely wonderful career path that offers high value in terms of fulfillment and income.

By exposing our people to careers in ICT through business visitation programs, experimental learning opportunities, and online engagement, RIM is hoping to turn this trend around. In our operating regions, RIM employees actually go to high schools and elementary schools to discuss physics and math to try to attract students to the sector. They show them the underpinning technology of a BlackBerry—they get to take apart a BlackBerry—and show them how maths, sciences, and physics all play an important role in the development of products.

Cooperative education, which I also mentioned, is a critical way to foster the skills we need to be successful. For those of you who are familiar with the Waterloo region, co-op education from the early days of the University of Waterloo engineering program has been essential. As I mentioned, we are one of the largest private sector employers of co-op students.

It's great because they bring their own enthusiasm and attitude. They're not jaundiced by business and how it's supposed to work. They're willing to challenge. They're willing to break the old business model. At one point in RIM's history, about one out of every four employees had been a co-op student at RIM at one point.

One solution the federal government may want to consider, and I understand and RIM understands that financial constraints are here and now, is to match Ontario's co-op tax credit to increase the opportunity for co-op students to gain experience in Canadian companies. In a large number of cases, they have ended up in full-time employment after graduation.

When we're unable to find qualified candidates in Canada, the ability to relocate workers with the essential technical skills to Canada is critical. As part of this process, we frequently use LMOs, labour market opinions, from Service Canada.

However, the structure and procedure of the program unfortunately are not well suited to the demands of a dynamic labour market for highly paid IT talent. Similar to past testimony you've heard, I'll say that a technology company's number one barrier to continuing growth and success is lack of access to talent, and not just technical talent, but the business talent as well.

Two key areas to address this are easing just-in-time talent acquisition processes, and creating a culture that builds the right kind of talent. When companies find themselves needing specialized skills, they cannot afford a lengthy hiring process.

In recent months, we've unfortunately encountered increasingly long processing times for LMOs. We used to be able to count on turnaround processing times of three to four weeks, but now the LMO process adds 16 to 18 weeks in our recruitment process.

The cost to RIM in terms of lost productivity and time to market is severe. Even worse, we've lost candidates who have actually accepted positions at RIM but have not been willing or able to put their lives on hold for months due to the long period as we waited for an LMO approval.

To give you a sense of the problem in the Waterloo region, we are not the only ones facing this issue. There was a story in the Waterloo Record about how a start-up company in the region has gone out and said to anybody in the community that if they can send an engineering student to them and the student is successful in getting a job, they will pay that person $3,000 cash. That's what the problem is becoming in the whole Waterloo region.

I won't repeat the stats that David and Karna have mentioned. I'll just leave you with the thought that the ICT community has about 5% of GDP, but in an era when we're trying to look at commercialization and productivity, we also add over 30% of the country's R and D as an industry.

I want to congratulate the committee for looking at this important issue. I look forward to your questions. More importantly, I look forward to seeing your recommendations and reading your report after you're finished.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that. From previous witnesses, we have heard about the co-ops and how they can work beneficially, and we hear you with respect to labour market opinions and so on. That will all fit into the study.

Now we'll go to the rounds of questions.

Ms. Charlton, go ahead.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thanks very much to you three for your presentations. I have a ton of questions. I don't even know where to start.

I don't think there's anybody on this committee who hasn't spent a lot of time thinking about the high level of unemployment, particularly among Canadian youth, and about what is being described as the skills shortage, and how you square that circle. How can it be that we have so many unemployed Canadians and yet we have employers who are consistently saying that it's difficult to find talent for their workplaces? I want to just explore that a little.

Obviously, universities are great incubators of skilled Canadian talent, and you've all described how you've drawn on that talent in your workplaces, but universities can't do it alone, right?

The training time through an academic program doesn't give you the just-in-time delivery of talent that you spoke about in your presentation, Mr. Elliott.

For students, you talked about needing a new narrative, for example, to attract students to the field. My sense is that it's probably more than just a narrative that students need. They probably need to know that, yes, they're not going to be described as a geek or a nerd, and that there are also some very positive reasons why they should be coming to your industry. I wonder if we could just talk a little about how we make sure students understand that the investment they make in their post-secondary education in this field will actually pay off for them.

When I was going to university, the tuition wasn't any higher for studies in IT than it was for a general arts degree. Now that's no longer the case. Particularly in Waterloo, I think the tuition is now twice as much as it is for a general arts program. For some students, that will be a barrier to getting the kind of post-secondary education that you want them to get. For some students, the work environment may prove a barrier if they aren't able to work the irregular hours that an entry-level position in the field sometimes requires.

I wonder if you could just talk a bit about what those barriers are at the post-secondary education level in regard to actually meeting your needs.

3:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

Maybe I'll start with the first question you asked, and it's an important one: why is there so much unemployment out there? We're saying there's a skills shortage. In the ICT sector the jobs tend to go where the skills are. If the available skill pull is not what you need, your jobs are going to migrate out, and that's what's happening. The kids who are coming out aren't necessarily in the sector and trained to do the jobs we need done.

A great example is that from a developer point of view, at a very young age, for every 10 .NET developers there is only one job as a developer. So we need to understand where the pressures are, what's going on in the marketplace, and what the needs are. If they're not trained for the right thing, the jobs are not going to come to them. That's the first point.

As David mentioned, the ICT sector unemployment continues to be at the 2% to 3% level—much lower than what we see in the economy. The second point you raised was on what we need to do. I think the private sector does have a responsibility here. We need to post the jobs and create the conditions for the right jobs in the country. At the end of the day the talent must be available. Most of the companies are managing toward the bottom line, and there are economic factors at play. If the job skills are not available, those talents migrate.

I talked to my son who is in engineering school. He won't be competing with the local graduates when he graduates; he'll be competing with graduates coming out of Hong Kong. So the magnitude of competition has changed very dramatically, as companies need to be global as well. For any technology company in Canada to be successful they must do business internationally. Our market, by nature, is very small. We have 30 million people and a very small market. So if you want our ICT sector to be strong and robust, these companies need to go international and global. There is a need to attract talent, and they have access to talent globally. We need to compete on that level.

Our training programs in schools and universities need to change. That's the new narrative David talked about. Our training programs need to be much more up to date, and our scholastics need to be different to compete globally. It's a multi-dimensional problem. But the issue is that where we find ourselves today, everything needs to be dealt with in some sequence. The private sector is responsible for creating jobs locally, but the policy framework from the government needs to help support it. Partnerships need to be developed between the private sector, the public sector, and academia to make sure we're creating the right skills resources.

4 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thanks. I really appreciate you saying that there needs to be a multilateral approach that includes the private sector and government. It is also true that Canada, as a whole, rates very low compared to other OECD countries with respect to on-the-job training. You're looking for highly skilled people, and that kind of training can't happen at universities. Some of it will have to be on-the-job training, because it's so particular and needs to be in the context of the work you're asking people to perform.

How much time do I have left? Can I go somewhere else?

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Sure, go ahead.