Get them while they

The Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills (CCICT) is making an aggressive play for the minds of tomorrow via its new National ICT Week event, scheduled to take place this fall.

“We need to get the word out as to how the world is changing, and change people’s attitudes toward IT as a career plan,” said executive director David Ticoll. “IT people are not just geeky technologists doing code.”

National ICT Week will take place in late fall across five Canadian cities and will be split into several parts catering to different audiences, including educators, employers, and students.

“We’re aimed at students in general, for the most part—people making career decisions,” according to Ticoll.

To reel them in, he said, National ICT Week will be split for them between a few days. One half will concentrate on seminars, meet-and-greets, and contests and awards, while the other will consist of seeing cool IT in person by visiting a variety of IT environments, whether it be a hospital or a telecommunications company.

The CCICT will be pushing the idea of IT professionals as dynamic go-getters with endless opportunities for interesting career paths and opportunities for advancement. “In addition to being afraid of the dot-com crash fall-out and offshoring, they don’t really think an IT career is competitive,” said Ticoll. “But the reality is that the demand profile is changing: around 25 per cent of IT workers are business analysts, and those are the most in demand.”

(This disconnect is contributing to the current skills shortage on the employer side as well, Ticoll said: “When people say they’re only going to hire someone with a few years experience, they’re really saying they want someone with business skills and experience, and not just what they might have gotten out of a standard degree program.”)

CCICT member companies include founding member Bell Canada, as well as IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Cisco, and Research in Motion, along with industry partners like Canadian Tire, CN Rail, and McCain. Ticoll said that he hopes to find a few bright young IT stars from member companies that could act as ambassadors for the IT trade.

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Info-Tech Research Group senior research analyst Jennifer Perrier-Knox said that it’s important for IT advocacy groups to tailor the message. One way is to stress the ways that an IT career is a good fit for the millennial worker. She said, “There’s job flexibility, interesting work, and the opportunity to build their resume and for advancement.”

Another ploy is to pitch an IT career in terms of existing interests, said Information Technology Association of Canada president Bernard Courtois. “We have to convey how pervasive ICT is now. For instance, if they want to improve the healthcare system, IT is the way to do it. Or if they care about the environment, IT is needed to reduce environmental impact.”

The upcoming year or two might be a better time for IT enrollment, according to Ticoll. He said, “During a recession, there are usually more university enrollments, period. With the economy, more people will be driven to more conservative prospects, so they’ll stick to the more professional areas.”

In the meantime, the CCICT is keeping busy by working with a group of universities to develop a more unified set of business/IT hybrid programs that will make it easier for potential enrollees to see the path to a job post-graduation, and the benefit of business skills. Co-op terms will be built into these programs to ensure that grads get those coveted business skills. Eventually, the group plans to develop a Web site that will make it easier for students to see what schools offer IT courses with a business slant.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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