Students give thumbs down to IT

Faced with an escalating shortage of skilled IT workers, Canadian companies are turning to educational institutions to help develop new generations of IT practitioners. But trends in university computer science enrolments indicate this wellspring of future IT professionals might be going dry.

According to a survey by the Computing Research Association, enrolments in computer science declined by 70 per cent between 2000 and 2005.

Even in high school, and despite a high degree of computer proficiency, fewer students are taking computer science courses, said Michael Katchabaw, an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Computer Science, at a recent forum on IT careers.

The declining number of IT enrollees could be attributed to the dot-com bubble bursting, said Katchabaw. He added that a common question parents have about computer science studies is whether there will be jobs available for their children when they graduate. “And the answer is, of course, that there are jobs available, and plenty of them,” he said.

The challenge for universities is altering people’s misconception that a career in IT is unstable, Katchabaw said. In fact, based on a recent survey of Canadian students, that misconception seems to have penetrated the minds of the younger generation which, despite claiming to have a strong interest in using technologies, are likely to pursue careers other than IT.

Market research firm Youthography recently surveyed Canadian students between the age of 17 and 20 and found that only 36.3 per cent are interested in pursuing a career in IT. Of those who were not interested in computer science, 35 per cent cited “it’s boring” as the top reason.

Katchabaw said that because such misconceptions prevail among the 17 to 20 age group, efforts among universities to encourage more enrolment in computer science are already extending to elementary school.

He said some students are still discouraged by the notion of the “geek culture” associated with computer science studies.

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