Quebec IT certification offers quick onboarding for tech-savvy immigrants

RAC Champlain College Saint-Lambert advertises the Attestation of Collegial Studies (AEC) in Information Technology Client Support (ITCS). The college system in Quebec plays a slightly different role to colleges in the rest of Canada. While they can be used as a form of study in their own right (where students prepare for a trade), they are also often an interim step between high school and university for students, where they prepare for higher education.

The  Attestation d’études collégiales (AEC) is a certificate offered at college level, and as such covers a variety of subjects and disciplines. The IT qualification is a useful way to validate students with existing IT knowledge, explained Eric Poehlman, an advisor at RAC Champlain.

“The one that we have is geared towards individuals who have previous experience in the field,” he said.  “We all know we have friends out there with a vast knowledge, who know what to do, but they have never been officially sanctioned by a college or institution. They don’t have a ticket to play.”

Because everyone on the AEC course has prior IT experience, it can cut the time required to get the certificate, he said. The course runs for three months, and covers 18 skills across five areas of comptency: Soft skills, Microsoft Office, technical support, hardware/software/networking, and operating systems.

There is also a Cisco networking AEC course, in which students can attain their CCNA qualification in the same timeframe. “Instead of just sitting in a class for a year, we’ll condense it,” said Poehlman.

What kinds of jobs can students hope to get after just three months of study? Because the course is meant more to validate existing skills and fill in any gaps, Poehlman said that many people who take it have existing undergrad or grad degrees in related areas. Their challenge? They’re new Canadian citizens, and their existing qualifications aren’t recognised.

“When they immigrate here they face barriers,” he said. Aside from recognized certification, the other barriers are language, Canadian work experience, and the lack of a professional network. The college does its best to help students overcome those challenges.

“We offer them a chance to ‘Canadianize’,” Poehlman said, adding that around 50 percent of IT-related AEC students were from overseas.

Around eight in every ten students graduate from three cohorts each year, and they go into jobs ranging from IT helpdesks to network administration.

“Phrases such as ‘A computer-AEC or equivalent is required’ are frequently used in technology job postings,” confirms Peter Harris, editor in chief at job site Workopolis.

The tech sector in Quebec is relatively buoyant, he said, with May job openings in the sector up three percent year on year.

Among the hottest tech jobs in Quebec are computer network technicians, which saw a 33 percent year on year increase and a combined monthly growth rate of two percent over the past three months, he said. Perhaps unsurprisingly given Montreal’s strong gaming and multimedia focus, computer programmers and interactive media developers saw a year on year increase of 20 percent, and a combined monthly growth rate of one percent. Systems testing technicians had less raw volume, but saw a very healthy 82 percent YoY growth rate in job openings, and a 5 percent combined monthly growth rate over the last quarter.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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