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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


IT trends highlight growing job markets

By Carter Hammett
Special to The Toronto Sun

Psychologist R.D. Laing once said things are changing so rapidly we only recognize the present as it disappears. Nowhere is this more evident than in the whirlwind of change that is information technology (IT). Think about it: a year in the life of a human is 365 days. The year in the life of the Internet is six months. By the time computer specialists crawl out of university, their entire first year's education is considered obsolete.

Despite slowdowns in recent years, IT is here to stay, and according to the Software Human Resources Council, the growth in both IT applications and products is three times the national average for other sectors. IT currently employs half a million people in Canada alone, with an upward trend projected at 15%.

The savviest job seekers are always trend watchers. Trends are important because labour market information can serve to project where industries will be over a specific time period. Trends can project market demand increases and declines, anticipate salary levels for specific occupations, determine geographical hotbeds of activity and predict impact on lifestyles. It can all be pretty dry stuff, and sometimes projections are wrong.

But several growing trends can serve as indicators of where the IT field is headed, and these can help job seekers make informed career decisions about training or areas of specialization.

One of these trends is the gradual obsolescence of job titles. What's emerging is an industry-identified series of skill standards that provide benchmarks of abilities needed to successfully perform in the work place. Skill standards help measure performance and identify necessary skills so employees know what's expected of them.

These standards also challenge current educational structures to adapt to the fluidity of the market place, thus closing the gap between work and school.

In addition, this need creates more pressure on the individual to commit themselves to ongoing learning, and adapt to the growing need of companies that require individuals with multitasking skills.

Where will learners be able to apply these skills? A number of areas are worth watching:

Wireless communication: By the end of this year an estimated 300 million cellphones will exist world-wide. These devices are quickly becoming more sophisticated, allowing users access to such services as e-mail, intranet, Web access and global positioning information. This is opening the door for application developers, networking engineers and other positions.

E-commerce: Despite some resistance to using the Internet for purchases, this area of IT enjoys steady growth, and has expanded from mere online shopping to include stock and bond transactions, software downloads and business-to-business activity. Watch for a growing need for software engineers, managers, administrators and customer service representatives.

New media and multimedia: This area is a bit of an anomaly in the IT world because it overlaps with telecommunications and culture. Revenue from new-and-multimedia firms in Toronto alone is an estimated $1 billion. Areas of growth for this sector include video streaming, DVDs, 3D animation, remote video linking and special effects. This is good news for writers, animators, video and sound producers, and graphic designers, as well as project managers, interface designers and software designers.

Application software providers: After a rough start and a current re-examination of its role, ASPs seem poised for a breakthrough in the next few years. ASPs are companies that lease software such as accounting packages and e-mail to their clients for a monthly fee. The premise is that companies are free from constantly buying, maintaining and upgrading software, although this has been a hard sell until recently. If this sector grows, it could mean bright futures for hardware developers, salespeople, and those in data and customer service.

The IT field is ripe with data that captures trends -- in fact, it leans heavily on it. That traditional labour market watchdog, Human Resources Development Canada, positively buckles when it comes to capturing current news, and still struggles to create job titles to match its dated National Occupation Codes.

It's best to check industry associations (Information Technology Association of Canada, being one) for the latest on what's hot and what's not. Several offer opportunities like networking to keep job seekers up to date on industry buzz. It's a vital service that offers many a lifeline in a field where the heart picks up the beat just a little quicker every day.

(Toronto writer Carter Hammett [] is a Toronto-based writer, trainer and employment information officer.)

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