Canada's Information Technology sector is growing fast and is largely unaffected by situations like the foreign worker controversy sparked by The Royal Bank, representatives from the IT education sector say.
"We're working on increasing the number of students that are going into our programs," said Christopher Anand, an associate professor of computing and software at McMaster University. "There is a lot of demand."
Earlier this week, a CBC News report revealed that dozens of IT employees who facilitate various transactions for RBC Investor Services in Toronto will be losing their jobs and be replaced by foreign workers.
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The foreign workers are employed by a multinational outsourcing firm from India — iGATE Corp. — which has a contract with the bank to provide IT services.
"My guess is they're tying to save some money," Anand said. "But in my experience, those sorts of things don't work out too well."
'A huge amount of infrastructure'
Anand says there is a wealth of jobs that exist right now for people who maintain infrastructure in the banking sector. "Quite a lot of what a bank does now is done electronically, so there's a huge amount of infrastructure they need to maintain."
According to the latest employment data from Statistics Canada, employment levels have grown in some IT sectors but fallen slightly in others. IT encompasses a lot of different fields, Anand says, and isn't a singular profession like some people seem to think.
The number of communications services jobs rose slightly from 2010 to 2011, as did data processing, hosting and related services jobs. Software publishing jobs fell slightly, as did computer systems design and related services.
However, information and communications technology jobs (which can include jobs such as commercial and service industry machinery manufacturing) fell from 3.3 per cent of the Canadian workforce to 3.2 per cent from 2010 to 2011.
In total, professions like the ones seen in the Royal Bank controversy saw a growth of 0.9 per cent. from 2010 to 2011.
Anand says the industry's demand for workers is so strong right now that McMaster is reaching as far back as eighth grade to get students involved and interested in the IT field as early as possible.
"In May, we're putting on workshops for Grade 8 kids to introduce them to the field of software, and get them thinking about the people that actually make it," he said.
"The demand is definitely there."
An 80 per cent employment rate for graduates
Demand for skilled graduates is strong at Mohawk College too, says Tony Thoma, the dean of engineering technology and media studies.
He says 80 per cent of students graduating from Mohawk's IT programs are finding jobs within the first year — and half of those graduates who aren't are not in the job market because they're planning to continue their studies.
Thoma says the industry as a whole is strong, and getting stronger.
The IT sector saw a huge spike in demand just before Y2K as people prepared for a meltdown of communications services and technology, he says. When that didn't happen, the industry started to slump. "Now it's recovering at a very fast rate."
The other reason there are plenty of job opportunities in the IT field right now is that a lot of people who are currently working are just about ready to retire, he says. "So employers are starting to realize that they need to hire fairly quickly, and at a brisk rate to replace the people who are about to retire."
A nationwide outrage
The Royal Bank foreign worker controversy has sparked outrage from thousands of Canadians, who are angry that the bank would replace Canadian workers with temporary foreign workers. Some have been threatening to close their accounts with the bank.
However, RBC employee Dave Moreau, one of the employees affected by the move and whose complaints sparked the story, acknowledged in an interview on Power & Politics that it may only be one temporary worker involved.
Thoma adds that he doesn't think banks outsource jobs quite as much as people seem to think.
"If the banks were really in that mode, then why would they be investing so much in the education system here?" he asked, adding that there are banking industry representatives on Mohawk's program advisory committees who help "provide input into the curriculum."
Ottawa said it is looking into the case and if the company in any way abused or misused the federal program that allows companies to bring in temporary foreign workers, the government will take action.
"HRSDC officials are currently reviewing the labour market opinions submitted by iGate in great detail, based on apparent discrepancies between RBC's public statement and information which has previously been provided to the government," said Alyson Queen, a spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.