Students hoping to land careers in information technology got another door slammed on their aspirations recently. The federal government-sponsored internship initiative, Youth Science and Technology Program, which provided on-the-job experience for more than 300 students learning the IT ropes over

the past five years has been cancelled.

“”It had a five-year life,”” explains Paul Swinwood, president of the Software Human Resources Council, the agency responsible for administering the program. “”So instead of providing funding until your grandchildren grow up, now they put a limit on it.””

Some industry pundits, however, criticize governments that expect to see the impact of a program too early in the process.

“”Too often these programs start and stop in an unrealistic time frame,”” says Robert Fabian, a management and systems consultant in Toronto. “”You can’t just turn it on and off and expect it to have an effect.””

In 1998, the federal government launched the Youth Science and Technology Program to ensure the crop of students stepping into new jobs in IT would have some practical experience to pave their way. At that time, enrolments in technology programs at colleges and universities were at an all-time high, the industry was booming and there was much ado about skills shortages.

Things have changed. The technology industry has suffered a huge blow, owing primarily to the dot-com bust, a limping economy and, to a lesser extent, says Fabian, Y2K expenditures.

“”We’re seeing a hiccup because of the hangover of both Y2K and the dot-com explosion,”” he says. “”A lot of businesses felt they were taken to the cleaners by their Y2K consultants — and many of them were.””

Consolidation of tech companies has also taken its toll. The past few years has been a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions including one of the largest in the history of tech companies, Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of Compaq.

“”What you’re seeing is an impact of the changing Canadian milieu when you see a lot of the larger corporations that have merged or been swallowed up: HP, Compaq, Digital, Tandem,”” says Swinwood.

Then there are those telecom companies that, not so long ago, couldn’t find enough co-op students to fill the need. Not so today.

“”In 2000, Nortel alone hired 2,500 co-op students,”” says Swinwood, who estimates that number is probably somewhere in the range of about 100 today. “”You can’t lay off full-time people while taking on co-ops and summer students in great numbers.””

The result of all the downsizing and belt-tightening is a gloomy outlook for students hoping to gain some work experience as part of their co-op program.

Gayatri Manchanda, a third-year programming at Humber College in Toronto, says she had big hopes for securing an internship at a high-tech company. But just as the date was approaching, the company axed the internship.

“”I went for the interview, but they closed the posting,”” says Manchanda.

It’s a familiar scenario, says Swinwood.

“”The last program we ran in 2002 had 80 interns,”” he explains. “”Out of those 80, 22 had to leave because of company restructuring.””

Fabian says the issue is more complex than interns who can’t find work placements. The changing landscape of the technology architecture in most business environments means companies are looking for different types of candidates.

“”We changed the economics of an application . . . that demands less and less people as we master how we do it,”” he says. “”If you look at the market for major integrated applications of the conventional kind, almost all vendors are in some difficulty and scrambling to do things such as what Oracle is attempting to do to Peoplesoft.””

There’s hope on the horizon, however. Human Resources Development Canada has added an IT component to Career Focus, a program intended to provide post-secondary students with co-op placements.

SHRC’s portion of the funding is $600,000 to be doled out over the next 18 months. The fund will subsidize up to one-third of the salary for an internship between six and 12 months.

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