Canadian business executives say the skills gap in information technology is affecting their productivity and ability to engage with customers, according to a survey by information technology industry association CompTIA.

CompTIA, an international training organization that surveyed businesses in 10 countries, found that 38 per cent of Canadian executives say an IT skills gap is hurting staff productivity.  Another 30 per cent said the skills gap hurts customer service and engagement, an increasingly important growth area as they seek to build mobile and internet engagement with consumers.

Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed reported some kind of IT skills gap in their organization. 

Denise Woods-Goldstein, director of skills development at CompTIA, says part of the skills gap is caused by the rapid changes in technology, which can leave existing employees behind.

And she says a worse shortage is looming.

“We are going to have a huge shortage of IT skilled workers because we have a huge retirement coming in a few years. That’s the biggest challenge right now,” said Woods-Goldstein.

“It’s keeping companies from getting better and more opportunities because what happens when you don’t have the right skill set, you don’t fix the problem the first time correctly,” she said.

The CompTIA survey found 75 per cent of Canadian businesses planned to increase their IT spending in the coming year.

Among the IT areas they want to improve:

  • Reaching new customers, 59 per cent.
  • IT security, 56 per cent.
  • Improving productivity, 55 per cent.
  • Updating aging computers and software, 44 per cent.
  • Expanding their web presence, 46 per cent.

CompTIA provides IT certifications associated with technology from a range of vendors, training that is offered to existing employees.

But one of Woods-Goldstein’s roles is to woo young Canadians into technology.

“What we’re trying to do is get them at a young age,” she said. “I’m visiting high schools now teaching IT skills certification so when the kids come out of high school, it’s a certification already so ... they are more employable.”

But technology careers are a hard sell, especially when high profile technology companies, such as BlackBerry are in trouble and laying off hundreds of people, she said.

“There is still that myth out there with the younger generation with a couple of things: No. 1 — If I go into technology I’ll end up at a computer in the back somewhere and don’t get to talk to anybody,” she said.

“One of our messages is to show them that IT is everywhere.”

She said there are hundreds of jobs for technology workers and she believes those BlackBerry has laid off will find work.

Woods-Goldstein said she finds the current generation of young workers to be quite literate in using iPhones, BlackBerries, tablets and PCs, but they lack skills to do repairs when something goes wrong.

“The problem is they don’t have the diagnostic skills that the generation before them had. They’ll look at the printer and say, ‘yeah, it’s not working’ as opposed to the electrical grad who says ‘that’s not working, What seems to be the problem here?’ “ she said.