Erin Ruiz is a tech-savvy 17-year-old from Toronto who spends most of her spare time in front of a computer. But when asked whether she wants to make a career in Information Technology, the answer is, “Probably not.”
Ruiz is entering grade 12 in the fall and has her eyes set on pursuing a program in international business or linguistics. She and her family recently immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, where she says many computer science graduates are having a hard time getting employment.
Not even the fact that her father is an IT professional can convince Ruiz to pursue a career in the IT sector.
“IT is really not my thing. I tried it in high school where we did programming; I know all the basics but I can’t construct better [programs], so I’m afraid I can’t accomplish it and really wont be successful, so I’d rather take up international business and linguistics,” explains Ruiz.
Universities and ICT industry associations are targeting students like Ruiz, trying to sway them into pursuing a computer science program, as part of a comprehensive drive to spur greater IT enrolment.
A survey of Canadian universities conducted by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC) showed a constantly decreasing trend in computer engineering, computer science and software engineering enrolment, which is down 11 per cent between 2002 and 2005.
The SHRC is projecting a yearly demand of about 35,000 new workers in the IT sector in Canada.
In 2003, computer science and computer engineering graduates from Canadian universities was at 3,100, according to the SHRC Web site.
“Where are the other 32,000 going to come from?” asks SHRC president Paul Swinwood.
He adds that Canadian labour market reports are already showing a two per cent unemployment rate in the IT sector indicating a “very tight labour market.”
Industry experts believe there is a huge misconception among students, parents and career counselors about the prospects of an IT career, which is directly resulting in lower enrolments.
“There is a shortage [of IT skills] because there is a perception problem that happened in (the) post-dot-com and post-Y2K (era), and as a result, parents and counselors are not aware of the viability and vibrancy of the IT industry,” says Stephen Ibaraki, vice-president at the Canadian Information Processing Society.
This view is shared by many industry groups, including the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), which believes the ICT industry is being hit by a “double whammy”: the aging baby boomers on one hand and, on the other, the false perception among students that there are no jobs in IT, says Bernard Courtois, ITAC president and CEO.
And the situation is expected to get worse before it gets better, says Courtois. “It takes a number of years for people to get to colleges and universities and go through the [computer science] programs; it’s a three- or four-year cycle.”