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Uncertain times call for…

reinvention?
By Tina Barton the Value of commodities and and social media to name a few, he says.
international trade is fallinG, But people shouldn’t wait on these and
markets are in turmoil, and newspapers other industries to grow by themselves. “It’s
are churning out daily tales of gloom and not just one-sided. We should create the
doom. But until the recession catches up skills they need to grow,” adds Mr. Rahbar.
with you, it’s easy to turn the other cheek. The market for reskilling and career
Until, that is, you hear that dreaded transition has grown more than 60 per cent in
rumour or official announcement that the last few months, Mr. Rahbar says, adding
layoffs at work are pending. Will you be people need to actively take responsibility for
caught on the back foot? How up-to-date keeping their skills updated and learning new
are your skills? areas of specialty – particularly as employers
It may come as a surprise, but if your last demand more knowledge and competencies
degree or program of study has from employees.
reached its fifth anniversary, it’s If your last “Employers expect,
already out of date, according for example, mechanical
to industry professionals. And degree or engineers to be designers
that lifespan falls to as short program of study too. To be familiar with the
as one and a half years in the end-to-end process, not
technology sector, says Hamid has reached its just one area.”
Rahbar, president and chairman fifth anniversary, But it’s not enough
of Vitesse Re-Skilling Canada for employees simply
and president of the Ottawa it’s already to update their skills on
Talent Initiative.
“At the end of that (period),
out of date. their own. Some think
employers should support
it means reskilling. If you don’t reskilling and up-skilling
reskill, you’ll be out of the workforce,” he initiatives, as well. But thanks to the recent
says. shorter job life cycle, many say employers no
Unlike “up-skilling,” which typically refers longer invest in their workers to the extent
to the process of updating and expanding they once did.
existing skills, “reskilling” involves learning “If companies will not invest in up-skilling
within a completely new area. or re-skilling, they will suffer … this will result
“People need to reconsider their careers in losing our technological and economic
and skills development and accept the fact competency and consequently (cause) job
that in the new economy, people need to losses from one side and business decline
experience different career paths during from the other side,” says Mr. Rahbar.
their career life,” Mr. Rahbar advises. Travis Lindgren, president and general
While not everyone needs to make manager of Learning Tree International
a dramatic career change to find a job, Canada, agrees. “For the relationship
the concept of re-skilling becomes more between employers and employees to
important during hard economic times improve, employers must invest a longer
when there’s a mismatch between supply time in people and people must commit
and demand. to a longer time in the company,” he says,
“We need to take care of this oversupply, adding research in the U.K. has shown firms
(and) what we can do (about that) is see that don’t make meaningful investments
which other sides of the economy are in training are two-and-a-half times more
growing.” likely to fail than those who do.
Some industries are expanding rapidly, The problem is that the recession has
despite the downturn: clean technology, caused, in many cases, knee-jerk penny-
biotechnology, nanotechnology, mobile pinching measures.
technology, video gaming, social networking “Specifically, companies are more

6 | OTTAWA HR | SPRING 2009 | OTTAWA BUSINESS JOURNAL


conscious of the dollars they are spending now been replaced with more stringent
and are looking to be certain that each dollar certification requirements, he says. Mr.
they spend has a high return on investment,” Nesrallah points to the growing popularity
he says, comparing current training trends to of MCP certification from Microsoft and A+
elements within the dot-com bust of earlier certification for computer technicians.
this decade. Mr. Lindgren also notes that enrolment
“Some companies are just in pure in Microsoft.Net courses has increased two-
‘contraction-mode’ and have ruthlessly cut to three-fold in the past year, while project
training and development across the board. management certifications have increased by
The ones that have processes and values that 40 per cent and SQL courses by approximately
look beyond the short-term are investing in 60 per cent.
their key personnel now so they can retain “If you don’t have certification, you can’t
them through the entire cycle.” move forward in the selection process …
In today’s market, Mr. Lindgren says, the There is lots of responsibility on workers and
focus is on the most talented employees who job seekers to continue to train and learn,”
are or could be integral to the company. adds Mr. Nasrallah.
“These are the employees that are A trend that’s currently creating
going to help steer the company through confusion for job seekers is that companies
troubled times and these often advertise one position,
are the employees that are but are looking for multiple
going to be loyal and provide Microsoft.Net people to fill different
additional leadership when courses has positions.
the market improves.” “When a candidate
It’s a good idea for increased two- sees they need to fill 35
companies and organizations
to be training employees
to three-fold in requirements, they step
back,” Mr. Nesrallah says.
now, from productivity the past year, Instead, job seekers
and employee satisfaction
standpoints, he adds.
while project should be aware they may
need supplementary training
These were reasons why management in order to understand areas
Mxi Technologies hired outside of their specialty.
Learning Tree International
certifications have Job seekers can also help
to train staff last summer. increased by companies identify how and
“We invested in training where they would fit, he
in order to increase the 40 per cent and adds.
technical capabilities of our SQL courses “Sometimes companies
people and, in the end, help don’t know what they’re looking
make Mxi more productive,” by approximately for. What we’re trying to do
explains Randy Baker, 60 per cent. with a candidate is help them to
director of human resources. research the company first and
“We provided the specific training to try to pre-match as much as possible because this
approximately five to eight per cent of our approach helps the company identify where they
organization. The areas of focus were purely might fit there.”
technical. But some companies sometimes point out
“As a technology organization, improving that when an employee is only with them on
the technical capabilities of our people is akin average for two-and-a-half years, why invest?
to investing in new tools and processes.” “In a knowledge economy, the nature of
Fred Nesrallah, program manager for the economy is against itself,” Mr. Rahbar
ITO 2.0 and a labour market consultant says. One solution he points to is a skills
and analyst, says technology workers are development tax in Europe and Asia, where
increasingly required to have standardized companies either put money into training
industry certifications. ITO 2.0, an their staff or lose that money in taxes.
Employment Ontario program, has for the Canada needs a similar set of policies
past 10 years helped displaced technology and regulations enforced and supported by
workers find employment. government and industry, he says.
“Our clients are usually from Nortel, But while unemployment is never a
Bell, Mitel, Dell and several other mid-sized positive experience, Mr. Nesrallah says
companies. We’ve helped people successfully find there are more opportunities today than
employment within the tech sector, government, during the tech wreck. “2001 was a more
security and defence and other industries.” difficult time because we had manufacturers
Mr. Nesrallah emphasizes that it’s closing down, which accounted for layoffs
not academic certification, but industry for hundreds. Because then we had a lot of
certification that some people lack. people with little jobs to go to … There are
Vague job descriptions such as “computer more opportunities now in other industries
experts” and “network specialists” have with lots of interest in candidates.” n

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