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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

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk
David Ticoll  Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills
Karna Gupta  President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada
Morgan Elliott  Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

The only comment I would make is that the skill set need is very fluid. I think that's the biggest thing you need to come to grips with as you start looking at some sort of recommendation.

The technology need is evolving very rapidly. If you're looking backwards in terms of what the NOC code was and the specific shortage in a skill set, 18 months to two years down the road it will change dramatically in terms of how the companies need the technology. With regard to that part of the evolution of the skill set and how companies train people, to some degree you need to rely on this partnership of companies and academia as to what they need to train people for.

We need to provide the underlying framework to access the raw material. The raw material in this case is people, youth. It's retraining people who exist in the job and mining elsewhere. We need to find people to come here to set up these organizations and areas where they can start building the skill set underneath them.

I'll give you an example. If you put in a chief technology officer in Waterloo or Montreal or somewhere else, they will tend to build an organization of 200 technicians and technologists and create the jobs there. If you don't create the conditions for companies to have that job here, through either LMO delays or something else Morgan mentioned before, that job and the associated talent that goes with it will migrate somewhere else.

It is very fluid, and we need to rely on the private sector to do the right thing. The economics in this case is the ultimate equilibrium. They drive the reality. The framework needs to be there. You cannot look at a study that is two or three years old that says we only need electrical engineers. It will probably not be true, looking two years forward.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

We need to be doing this every year.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Right.

As I see it, there are really two streams to filling these jobs. There is what I would call domestic, homegrown talent, and there is international recruitment where required.

A number of you have mentioned the labour market opinion, LMO, process. Do you have any specific recommendations for us that would significantly improve that? I've had some frustration about it as well. Local employers have come into my office to talk about the LMO process. I'm a new member of Parliament. I'm learning how the bureaucracy works and how the system works.

Do you have any specific ideas of what we can do to speed it up and also to make sure it's accurate? One of the accusations made by some people is that they don't believe companies are actually hiring local people, but are saying that it's easier to steal somebody from another country, and overlook domestic workers, which I don't think we want as Canadians. We want to put Canadian workers first. I do believe there are situations where we don't have enough trained domestic workers with the skill sets to move into those jobs ASAP, or fairly ASAP.

Do you have any specific recommendations for us around the LMO process, where the private sector can help the staff in HRSDC speed up the process and better understand what the skill gaps and labour shortages are in certain areas? Do you see any other role that private sector organizations like yours can play to improve the LMO process?

Mr. Elliott, you mentioned it specifically.

4:10 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

One of the things they may want to do first is a risk-based analysis, for example, if a company or an organization has a reputation for bringing in qualified people by following the rules and paying properly. Everyone has heard the stories of when it has been abused. If a proper risk-based analysis was done based on companies that did live up to the letter of the law, I think that would be a good first step.

I know for the ICT sector we're in a highly competitive area, so we're kind of reticent to advertise what we pay. If we offer a highly qualified engineer $150,000 to $200,000, the person next door is going to mark it up by 10% or 20%. Often there is a need to advertise the salary. I think if they set up salary bands, that would be a good way of doing it as well.

There are little niggling things like, when you apply for the LMO, having to prove that you've advertised for the job. If we hadn't advertised for the job already, we wouldn't be knocking on Service Canada's door for an LMO.

Those are three little things they could do to improve the service.

As little as a year or 18 months ago, it took only three or four weeks, which I think is entirely acceptable. For some reason it seems to have slowed down over the last little while.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Could I quickly ask one follow-up question on that. You talked about the salary bands. One of the complaints that I have heard about the LMO process is that the wage rates that are being set are not realistic for the geographic areas. They're too high in a lot of cases, or outdated, and so on.

Do you think the industry could be more helpful in helping us set some of those? We talked about the codes and so on of different job descriptions, and they do change over time. There is a lot of fluidity, especially in your sector. Could you be more helpful and more timely in providing us, as the government, with an idea of where the wage scales are going generally in those areas? Perhaps you could help us set fair bands rather than saying that you have to pay $44 an hour and if you don't pay $44 an hour you're not getting a foreign worker into the country. That's the frustration I've heard, that there isn't enough reasonableness in some of the wage scales that those LMOs are setting.

4:10 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

Not to put Karna on the spot, but for the ICT sector, I'm sure that's something the members of ITAC would love ITAC to do.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

We would actually welcome providing that kind of input to the government on how this should be done. When we talk to our members, this is one issue that comes up constantly.

The other one that always comes up is that we always tend to manage by exception. There are some companies that would be on the exception side, maybe stretching it a little beyond what the bounds are, and then there should be some consequences. But the vast majority of the companies are following within the norms of the guidelines, and they should be allowed to move forward.

Time and again the example our members tell me is that they have a project to do in a bank or somewhere else, and they have to deliver something in a big project. They need to put 30 people on that work but they can't find them. It's a three-month project. If it takes them three months to get the resources, the project is done. They basically are not active in the process anymore. We need to beef that up.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that.

Is there anyone else?

Go ahead, Madame Boutin-Sweet.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you.

Good afternoon, gentlemen, and thank you for your warm welcome to this committee.

I have two sons, two brothers and two nephews who work in the field of computer science. They are all men. There are far fewer women in this area, just as in politics. I myself have a background in archeology, and there are not very many women there either. At university, there are a lot of women in the courses, but in the field, there are not many because of the working conditions in general.

Mr. Ticoll, you mentioned that fewer than 20% of the women registered in this field are women. Already there are not very many women who register in this area, fewer even than in anthropology. And so there must be even fewer women who stay there, because all of the people I know who work in this area work very long hours. Society has not yet caught up with the labour market. The reality is that often women are still the ones who take care of the family, and so they need working conditions that are different from those of men.

How can your market adapt to that reality? You said you wanted to find women to hire, but how can your market adapt so that women are able to work for you?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

I am going to answer in English because it is easier for me.

First of all, I just want to clarify the numbers. What I said in my presentation was that women make up less than 20% of those in the really hard-core technical programs, but actually, overall among ICT professionals, it's 25% because some of those professionals are not.... They're like analysts, for example. Information systems analyst job programs are easier for women to work with. They're more attuned to the kinds of things that women want to do. So the overall number is about 25%, which is still unacceptable.

I have a couple of responses to this.

First of all, I think you're right that we don't have more women in the field because they're making choices, not because they're being kept out. They don't necessarily see the field reflecting their interests.

With respect to your concern, which is a valid one, historically it has been very true that the culture of information technology has not been very female-friendly. That has changed dramatically. Certainly ITAC's members, our members, and our 25 corporate members are very proactive with respect to all the issues you've identified and more, in terms of making sure that there's a very strong focus on work-life balance, with a special focus on women. Many organizations, particularly large companies, see creating working conditions that will appeal to women as an explicit priority. For smaller companies, it depends on the organization, but in general among large companies, it's now happening, not in every single one but pretty much across a large number of them.

The other factor is our view that it's not enough. Do women really see their aspirations and desires for the kind of career they want, the kind of work that they want to do, reflected in this field? Again, it comes down to the question of the old narrative—this geeky programmer who spends all day sitting in front of a computer screen—that's going to appeal to fewer women than men. That's just the reality. It's a cultural fact. But in this new narrative we're talking about, where, first of all, many of the jobs are actually business-oriented and require leadership skills, collaboration, communication skills, and so on and so forth, it is a fact that there's a significantly higher proportion of women in those jobs. Outside the IT sector, well over 30% of those jobs are actually filled by women. Inside, it's a little bit less.

But now the new narrative is saying, it's whatever you're interested in. Are you interested in life science? Go into bioinformatics. Are you interested in design? Well, you can do online design. You can design things.

The arts, social sciences, medicine—many, many fields—are now combined with IT at a technical level or at a business level. That's what is really turning the corner. By the way, it's not only turning the corner for many women. We're just getting started, and we've touched a tiny percentage of the Canadian population. By the way, we need financial support from government in order to do this. We can't just do this with our industry funding. We've had good support in the past. Now we need it to continue.

But what I was going to say is that we also need to recruit a certain kind of male into the field, someone who's a bit of a right-brain/left-brain kind of person, who's not just technically oriented, but who has those creative and communication skills as well. So our approach is to tell that narrative to the entire cohort, and based on at least our preliminary results, it's working.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

In my opinion, working conditions could be winning ones not only for women, but also for the men. Indeed, there are far more men who take care of their children today than there were in my father's day, for instance. And so it would be beneficial for everyone if working conditions would allow people to have a life outside of work.

I would like to move on to another topic. You referred to this briefly, as did Mr. Butt also. We talked about the studies that provide information on the jobs of the future. Mr. Butt mentioned sectoral councils. That was a very good source of information, but unfortunately they were abolished.

What impact has the abolition of those councils had on planning, to ensure that there are no shortages? I would also like to know what we could do to replace those councils and obtain the data in question, and perhaps even to obtain more data.

4:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

Let me give a response to that one, then I'll ask Morgan and David to comment on it.

I think, from an information gathering point of view, the sectoral studies were good. They were timely, and they addressed certain issues. As we look forward, whether these sectoral groups are there or not, these studies can still be done. It does require some support from the government to work with the private sector to develop them.

I believe that rather than always looking at a study that is more what I call historical, initiative needs to be taken to engage the private sector in telling you where they think the goals are and what kinds of jobs and what kind of talent and skills they will need in the future.

In our business in technology, we separate that out very quickly. Things that are water under the bridge, you cannot really deal with anymore. They are behind you. You can only drive the car looking forward. You can't drive a car by looking at the rear-view mirror, right?

In that sense, these studies need to be done with the industry. I would welcome any opportunity to find a way to engage the private sector and engage them in studies developed with the multiple parties that are around the table. They would be happy to support that.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Would you have some more specific suggestions to make to the government as to what form those studies might take?

4:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

I think there is a clear funding issue in starting these kinds of studies. There are several groups. One of them, David Ticoll, is here. There are some other groups out there. ICTC is also looking at some of these studies. All of these groups do meaningful work in terms of either delivering programs or creating assessments of what kinds of jobs are needed for various sectors.

There are other organizations and institutions we collaborate with as ITAC. As you know, ITAC is completely funded by the private sector. We collaborate with several of these organizations to get the right information. We bring our constituents, who are our members, to the table to provide them with the data and information they need, and we deal with the government.

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills

David Ticoll

I'd just like to add a couple of information points.

As we understand it, the sector councils themselves are going through this transition, but the sector council program, or what was formerly the sector council program, continues to have a budget, part of which is, as I understand it, to be allocated to labour market research. Hopefully, at some time in the near future, that program will be calling for proposals to conduct research. I don't know what the nature of those proposals will be. Karna mentioned some specific ideas that ITAC has. We also have specific ideas.

We believe that there should be baseline ongoing research, ongoing supply and demand, on what the current state is. It should be done on a regular basis, in far more depth and specificity and frequency than it is now, through a private-public-academic partnership. Then, using that as the foundation, we can do futuristic research, as Karna was talking about, as well as deep dives into specific areas.

Let's say that we have this problem that Morgan was talking about in Waterloo. Let's find out a little bit more about that, or how can the oil and gas sector in Alberta use ICT skills more effectively, or whatever it may be.

If you have those two foundational pieces in place, then, in fact, a lot of those kinds of specialized things could be funded more by the private sector entities that have an interest in them. And if government can kind of quarterback collecting the larger frame of information, but can do it extremely well—a couple of orders of magnitude better than we're doing it now—we would have a foundation for....

We believe that this could be a source of competitive advantage for Canada, if we do it well.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Your time is up.

Go ahead, Mr. Elliott. You had a comment.

4:25 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

I'm sorry, but I wanted to address your first question, if I may.

The issue of the ICT sector and careers for women, I would say, applies to every professional career. This is an issue very near and dear to me, being married to a lawyer. We have this discussion all the time on whether or not it would be better for her to take some time off so that we can talk about family and deal with other things. That's not an issue that's indicative of the high-tech sector at all.

But what I would say for the global war on talent is that I do think you will see more accommodation for situations like that. Definitely in the ICT sector, I think we could be the leader in terms of being accommodating for all sorts of different needs, simply because we do have a lot of telecommuting, whereby people are able to work at home and balance off careers with being mothers or fathers.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you for that exchange.

We'll take a five- to ten-minute break and then resume the questioning.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

We'll call the meeting to order. We'll commence with questioning from Mr. Daniel.

Go ahead, Mr. Daniel, as we settle in here for the next round of questions.

April 23rd, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for being here.

I have a little bit of a tech background and also on the teaching side. I'll start with the technical side.

Most of the big companies here in Canada—and this may be the reason why there's such a small gap in terms of two or three per cent of not-required—outsource a lot of their design work, software work, etc. I'm curious just to see how much of that is going on in the industry, and how much is that filling the gap of what skills we need here. Maybe we can start with Mr. Elliott and RIM.

4:40 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

Sure. Primarily the way that we've—and I wouldn't say outsource—but primarily the way we do R and D offshore has been through acquisition, where we've identified a gap in some of our technology or an area that we may want to expand in. That's primarily how we've grown in Germany, Sweden, Australia, Singapore—a number of locations across the globe.

One of the problems with offshoring, and I think you're seeing it more and more being involved in the tech sector or with a technology background, is the protection of intellectual property. That's one of the biggest concerns the ICT sector has going forward. The more that you tend to offshore, the more you tend to lose control of that protection. That, measured against the value and the savings of doing non-critical, non-IP producing offshoring, is definitely a consideration. Unfortunately, if you are unable to get that talent, that's definitely a consideration you have to make. Do you do the project or do you secede it to your competitors because you haven't been able to get the people that you need to work on it? So it's a combination of the two.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Does RIM actually do some of this outsourcing? There are great places like Bangalore in India, etc., where some of these bigger companies outsource both hardware and software.

4:40 p.m.

Director, Government Relations, Research in Motion

Morgan Elliott

We currently don't outsource or offshore any of our new jobs.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Gupta.

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

In terms of outsourcing, most of the jobs that you're talking about are what we call "code cutters"—very low-level jobs that, purely on an economic basis, will go where the economies are better. In terms of the talent jobs you're talking about, we need to start looking at talent as being like your gold. The price of an ounce of gold is the same no matter where you go. The price of top talent is pretty much the same regardless of where in the world you hire them.

The associated jobs that go with it, those are the ones we need to attract more of in the country. The pure outsourcing economic jobs, those would probably be tough for us to get back. The economics just don't work for a lot of the large companies.

But these companies are also exporting and marketing in those countries, so there is a tremendous number of market opportunities that are opening up by setting up those shops. But the big consideration always is, as Morgan says, that the intellectual property always comes to the table. That dictates how you construct that.