Canada falls short on IT graduates

A nonprofit council that monitors that Canadian IT landscape is set to release a study that shows a considerable gap between the number of new hires needed each year versus the number of graduates coming out of Canada’s universities.

The report, which will be presented by the Software Human Resource Council (SHRC) at this week’s GTEC conference in Ottawa, found that the ICT sector requires 35,000 new hires each year. That number jumps to 89,000 for the next three to four years.

Compare those numbers to the amount of students enrolled in computer science and computer engineering programs at the post-secondary level, and SHRC’s president Paul Swinwood said they don’t add up.

“We’re looking at a maximum of 7,000 coming out of the school system,” said Swinwood. “We’re trying to figure out where the heck the rest of the people are going to come from.”

While SHRC cites declining in enrolment in science and engineering as one of the key factors that will hurt Canada’s high-tech sector in the future, a couple of Ontario universities report an up-tick in the number of enrolments in these programs.

Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. said the number of applicants to its science programs are the highest since the double-cohort year in 2003, said Dr. Art Szabo, dean of the faculty of science at Laurier. (Ontario’s high schools switched from a five-year to a four-year system, which created double the amount of applicants than a normal year three years ago when students from both systems graduated at the same time.)

In 2006, Laurier had 750 first year science students, compared with 635 in 2005 and 532 in 2004. Dr. Szabo attributes the dip in student applications to the new math curriculum introduced with the four-year system. Many high school students were staying away from a math course called geometry and discrete mathematics (a prerequisite course for many science and engineering programs) for fear of getting a bad mark that would downgrade their overall average.

“It was quite clear that the number of geometry and discrete math was falling steadily, whereas the calculus was going up,” he said. “It was our attitude at the university that without the geometry and discrete math, we could teach them what they needed or they would not be handicapped.”

Likewise, Dr. Stalin Boctor, dean of engineering, science and architecture at Ryerson University in Toronto, noticed a similar pattern in that institution’s enrolment patterns.

“Starting from 2004 on we realized that particularly the math curriculum was not enticing too many students to take that route. We reacted to that by making the admission requirements flexible.

“All of the engineering schools have noticed that the numbers we’ve submitted this year have improved from last year and the year before,” said Dr. Boctor.

Ryerson’s statistics show there was a reduction in applications to science and engineering programs of roughly 30 per cent from 2001 and 2002 to 2004 and 2005 from 10,500 to 7,000 qualified applicants.

“Geometry and discrete math was a requirement in engineering. That became the bottleneck,” said Dr. Boctor, adding that some high schools didn’t even offer the course. “We said if you don’t have that course you can replace it with a biology course or an earth science course.”

But Ontario universities will have to change their game plans again after the Ministry of Education made changes to the math curriculum that will take effect in 2007.

“We are changing our admission requirements to respond to the change in curriculum,” said Dr. Boctor.

Aside from curriculum woes, there’s still a perception among many young Canadians that technology is not a reliable field to enter in terms of employment opportunities.

“There is a psychological impact from that IT bubble bursting in 2001,” said Dr. Boctor. “We are far removed from that. There are very lucrative jobs in IT and communication industry.”

SHRC’s Swinwood agreed, adding that his organization is seeing a growing demand for system integrator type jobs.

“That’s where the skills shortages are really becoming evident,” he said.

At the presentation of the study on Tuesday, SHRC will also announce that it is changing its name to the Information Communications Technology Council (ICTC). ICTC will cover many verticals in the ICT marketplace such as hardware, nanotechnology and wireless.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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