The Software Human Resources Council is preparing to expand a program that helps high-school students earn challenging IT certifications across the country following its success in British Columbia.

The non-profit group has already signed

agreements with the Toronto Board of Education and the province of New Brunswick and is negotiating with the Calgary Board of Education to adopt the two-year program, which simulates real-life business situations and asks students to help create IT strategies to solve problems.

Software Human Resources Council (SHRC) president Paul Swinwood said the organization is putting together an Information Technology Associate certificate component to the program that would be recognized nationally. “”It looks like we’ve got four provinces on board and probably about five more to come,”” he said.

Although some of the students who have completed the program ended up being certified on vendor products like Cisco’s, the SHRC said 90 per cent of them have gone on to pursue post-secondary studies, where their grades have been 16 to 20 per cent higher than their classmates. In its earlier National School-to-Work Transition Program feasibility study, the SHRC had looked at “”head-start”” software training that would have seen students enter the IT field right out of high school.

One of the program’s early adopters was Riverside Secondary, based in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Dennis Joel, who teaches the Information Technology Support Program at Riverside, said students spend the first week of class using a crossover cable to set up a peer-to-peer network that can be used to share files. As the course proceeds, they must evaluate the IT needs of a fictitious business and then redesign its network from top to bottom. Lab work and exams round out the evaluative component of the program. Cisco’s Network Academy Program was integrated into the program when it was conceived four years ago.

Joel said one of the biggest challenges has been identifying the students with the right aptitude to stick with the often demanding assignments through two years.

“”I’ll ask them what they do on a Saturday if it’s raining. If they’re playing on their computer, if their computer is a major part of their lives, then this may be the path for them,”” he said. “”It’s like with hockey — if you don’t like to ice skate, you’re going in the wrong direction.””

Swinwood said the SHRC originally developed training for post-secondary level studies for schools like Humber College in Toronto. “”Then we met with high schools who said, ‘We need some sort of program that involves the kids more than just staring at a computer,'”” he said. “”So we took a subset of the full program and took most important skills.”” These included working on a team, researching and presentation skills, Swinwood said.

While the IT industry has periodically bemoaned the lack of experienced entry-level IT talent in general, companies like CGI and IBM have been trying to encourage more young women to consider technology careers. Joel said he is familiar with the challenge of filling the gender gap.

“”I’ll be lucky if I have two girls in the class,”” he said. “”I had one that really thought through her work in a problem-solving, analytical way, but after second year she went into band and took courses related to that. She still comes by every now than then and says she kind of misses it.””

Computers For Schools donated 40 machines to schools that allows students to work on a local network that has nothing to do with the school’s actual IT infrastructure. “”They can tear it about, they can put it back together — that’s a donation of probably the equivalent of $100,000 worth of equipment,”” said Swinwood.

The course also involves co-op placements with firms like Alcatel Canada, Swinwood said. The program was funded in part by the federal government’s Sector Council Program.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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