Back in the old days, graduating from high school meant that you left your secondary education with a diploma, which told the world that you could read and add and maybe – if you took some speciality classes – could fix a car or type or use a band saw.

Today’s high school graduates have the opportunity of leaving grade 12 with something more: a technology certification equivalent to those held by some veteran IT professionals.

Cisco Systems Canada recently expanded its Cisco Networking Academy offerings to include five new modules: IT Essentials, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard; Fundamentals of Voice and Data Cabling, sponsored by Panduit; and Fundamentals of Unix and Fundamentals of Java Programming Language sponsored by Sun Microsystems. These modules will be tacked on to its current program, which allows students in both high schools and colleges to complete course work leading up to writing the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and later the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certifications.

According to Bob Miller, an instructor at Toronto, Ont.-based Centennial College’s Area Academy Training Centre, which instructs teachers who will take their knowledge back to their high schools, this program is designed to give students a leg up in finding a job down the road.

“Imagine leaving high school with your diploma in one back pocket and a CCNA and a CCNP in another. You’re set,” he said.

While the high school-level program doesn’t assume that employers will snap up graduates with only those documents, one Toronto-based IT manager, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested that he would have no problem hiring a Cisco-certified high school graduate.

“Why not?” he said, noting that the starting wage for someone with no further education would be substantially lower than someone with a degree plus the certification.

This reaction is not likely the norm, according to Lisa Fong, senior partner at recruiting company Profile Solutions in Toronto.

“There are a lot of people who are certified in Cisco with a lot of experience who are looking for work right now – even when the job market was booming, it was still not a problem finding Cisco-certified people. Employers are being choosier than ever before, and I think that putting this program into schools is misleading to these kids,” she said. “People aren’t going to hire them.”

While the majority of students leaving high school with a certification will go on to a college or university before entering the job market, Anne Miller Cisco Systems Canada’s education marketing manager, suggested that the Cisco Networking Academy is one response to a recent Information Technology Association of Canada (Ontario) report that projected a looming IT skills shortage.

“There are a lot of areas in IT that are specific to one industry, but networking is across the spectrum. It touches every industry, and is a driver of the Canadian economy,” Anne Miller said.

While the Networking Academy did receive some backlash from school boards and parents in the early days about bringing the industry into the classroom, the controversy has died down, Anne Miller said.

“We opened up the curriculum to get feedback, and negative reaction was minimal,” she said.

Bob Miller said that part of the reason for so little complaining is that if there is any sales pitch embedded into the curriculum on the part of Cisco Systems, it’s very subtle.

“Sure, if they show a router it’s going to be a Cisco router, but it’s a course about fundamentals. It’s like learning to drive a car. Just because you learn on a Volkswagen doesn’t mean that you can’t drive a Porsche later on,” he said.

For more information on the Cisco Networking Academy, visit