A computer science school for every Canadian industry

Paul Swinwood has a vision, if anyone in Canadian academia would care to hear it.

I had an opportunity to meet with the president of ICTC while I was in Ottawa this week and I brought up a subject I knew was close to his heart: the dearth of young people enrolling in computer science or other IT courses at universities. This has been the focus of various consortia for years, and despite all the good intentions there hasn’t been a lot to show for it. There still aren’t a lot of young people, particularly young women, who see IT as a “cool” career.

My conversation with Swinwood primarily concerned some recent research ICTC has conducted on the demand for skills related to e-health or health informatics. Although I’ll be writing more on this subject soon, I asked whether the focus on a vertical kind of job opportunity might be more enticing to young people. Suddenly his eyes lit up.

You see, Swinwood has an idea: what if Canadian universities tapped in the key industry needs of their area and tailored their computer-science programs accordingly. “Imagine if the University of Ottawa becomes the government computer science lab,” he said, with project management programs that look specifically at the needs of the public sector. “There just happens to be a small employer in their back yard.”

Edmonton might be a breeding ground for environmentally-focused IT skills development. Montreal, with Bombardier as a longtime resident, could be all about aviation IT.  

“The pure computer science that focuses on the core fundamentals of programming and so on – Waterloo does that extremely well, but they’re full,” Swinwood noted. “Young people are looking for a way to make an impact . . . and we know that 54 per cent of the jobs are in applying IT.”

This was one of the most original approaches to this problem I’ve ever heard, and I don’t mind admitting I was excited about it. I asked Swinwood how those within the post-secondary field were reacting to this idea. He shrugged. “I’m shopping it around,” he said. Here’s hoping schools and the IT industry start buying in.

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