Putting IT on students’ radar

To encourage more youngsters to enroll in computer science courses, the industry needs to do a better job at spreading the good news around an IT career. That’s one of the recommendations that came from a panel of Canadian educators and industry analysts who gathered at Cisco Canada’s Toronto headquarters recently to outline their views on the lack of qualified workers in the IT and networking industry.

“The picture in Canada is bleak and we believe there is a significant problem,” said Paul Swinwood, president of the Information and Communications Technology Council. “At colleges and universities we’re seeing a 30 to 70 per cent drop in enrolment.”

The Canadian IT sector requires approximately 35,000 new hires annually to keep up with the employment demand. However, only about 7,000 students graduate each year in computer sciences, computer engineering and other IT-related disciplines.

“The media took the Y2K hangover, the dot com burst and the lack of enrolment and really amplified it,” said panelist Mauro Lollo, co-founder of Oakville, Ont.-based tech firm UNIS LUMIN. “Young minds working their way through school have seen this and steered away from IT,” he said, adding that one solution could be for the industry to emphasize the earnings potential to high school students who are still deciding on their career paths.

Robert Wager, program coordinator for experiential learning at the Toronto District School Board, said the lack of funding for IT-related courses and equipment has been a huge contributor to the current problem. “When money is spent, it’s on security cameras, hall monitors, and other things like that, but it’s interesting because nothing turns on a kid more than a state-of-the-art computer lab.”

A common theme centred on the need for IT to get on the radar of young students in elementary and high school.

“One of the most popular shows that young people are watching is CSI, so it’s no surprise that the universities are flooding with courses related to that,” said Pam Baldaro, a Cisco Networking Academy instructor at Winnipeg-based West Kildonan Collegiate. “It’s hard to funnel kids into IT when there’s no profile for it. We have to find a way to get it out there and make it more interesting for kids to try it.”

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