Centennial College officials say the school’s HP Science and Technology Centre will teach students marketable technology skills but make sure they also have the soft skills to deal with co-workers and customers.

The centre is due to open on Centennial

College‘s Scarborough, Ont., campus later this year, and was recently opened for a sneak preview. Sponsored by HP Canada and Avaya Canada, the centre will house engineering, applied science and technology students.

The focus of the course load will clearly be on technology, but other, more intangible skills will also be brought to bear.

“”As we hire employees, often we find people with tremendous technical skills but very (few) people skills — communications skills, customer service skills,”” said Victor Garcia, managing principal for the mobility program office at HP Canada. Garcia also serves on the centre’s board of directors, representing HP.

“”One of the things that we influenced the college to do was to include so-called soft skills. From the first year, we wanted to develop programs that would teach students to think outside the box,”” he added.

The college aims to turn out graduates that can handle wireless and networking technology, as well as in-demand skills like security management. Three applied degrees offered will include software development, networking professional and integrated accounting in IT, said Lan Nguyen, Centennial’s vice-president of IT.

HP has supplied much of the centre’s technology, including printers, servers, desktops and laptops, as well as development and support services. Wireless and networking infrastructure was provided by Avaya Canada. Avaya will provide the same training to the centre’s staff and faculty as that offered by Avaya University in the U.S., according to Nguyen.

The centre’s two original partners were Avaya Canada and Compaq Canada. An official ground-breaking ceremony took place in November 2001, when the centre’s construction was first announced. By then it was known that the name Compaq would soon be replaced by HP. “”The day I went to the board to make the presentation about the Compaq partnership, HP took over,”” said Nguyen.

News of HP’s takeover bid broke on Sept. 3, 2001, and the US$18-billion transaction closed May of the following year.

The Centennial HP Science and Technology Centre will be open to students this fall. At a cost of $65-million, the 245,000 sq.-ft. facility will feature a resource centre, six computer labs, 25 classrooms and 47 specialty labs.

As well as technology students, the centre will also house health science, nursing, paramedic and spa management students. There is already a degree of overlap between medicine and technology at Centennial, said Nguyen. Through its partnership with HP and with a government grant, the college is developing a telehealth solution using virtual private network (VPN) technology.

“”It’s very exciting for us to see how technology can really bring the health care to the home much more readily. The nurse would have up to date information about the patient,”” said Nguyen.

For technology students, there may be job possibilities waiting for them at HP. The teaching process will continue beyond any formal education, since technology changes so rapidly, said Garcia.

“”When we hire people we always know that we have to provide additional training,”” he said, “”but it’s very hard to teach somebody to think.””

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