The Strategic Microelectronics Consortium (SMC) and the Information Technology Association of Canada announced a merger of the two organizations Wednesday in an effort to attract more federal government dollars to the Canadian IT industry.
At an event in Montreal, ITAC president and CEO Gaylen Duncan and SMC board member Nick Deeble said a joint organization will have a louder voice to lobby Ottawa for investment into increasing the number of faculty and postgraduate students working in the high-tech arena.
“We launched the eMPOWR campaign over a year ago to try to focus government attention on this problem,” Deeble said of the initiative to increase the presence of microelectronics, photonics, optoelectronics and wireless and radio engineering presence at the university level. “This experience led us to the conclusion that we could benefit from the influence of a larger, horizontal organization”
“We started to realize there was a lot of commonality between our (groups) and that was the reason for this announcement,” Duncan added.
The merger will see SMC’s 43 member companies — including JDS Uniphase Corp., C-MAC Industries Inc. and PMC Sierra Inc. — unite with the ITAC stable of 285 companies (three SMC companies were already ITAC members so the merged organization will have 325 companies in total). The SMC will be re-constituted within ITAC, with harmonization of operations beginning Jan. 1, and ITAC has proposed the number of microelectronics companies on its thirty-member board rise from one to four.
Duncan said fees paid by SMC companies will not change for six month and that the majority of them will go down rather than up. He said the merger of the two organizations was not a cost-cutting initiative.
“I expect we’ll see some overhead (savings), but it wasn’t a financially-motivated proposal.”
The motivation, both Duncan and Deeble said, was to continue to press what they feel is a strong case before the feds.
Duncan said that between Jan. 2000 and Aug. 2001, the total employment of information and communication technologies professionals — not including any administrative positions — grew 16 per cent, compared with total Canadian employment growth over that period of two per cent. He added the high-tech employment growth includes the heavy layoff periods of Dec. 2000-Jan. 2001 and this past summer. “Still, the chart is up and to the right,” Duncan said.
Deeble, also the CEO of Cadence Design Systems (Canada) Ltd., said the microelectronics industry alone generates $8.5 billion annually and employs 10,000 Canadians. But he added Canada currently produces only about a third of the skilled workers needed to keep the industry growing and that more public investment is needed to hire more faculty, which will in turn attract more students the field.
“If we can’t find the highly qualified people we need to run our labs in Canada, we can move those labs closer to where there are skilled people in ready supply,” Deeble said. He added that despite the sector’s ability to commercialize research and development, only three per cent of Canada Research Chairs have been awarded to scholars in the field. “It’s a major piece of the economy, so it should be getting more.”
ITAC and SMC are looking for a five-year commitment of $360 million from Ottawa in the upcoming December budget that will allow Canadian universities to hire 360 new high-tech professors, from both Canada and abroad. The original goal had been to add 540 new professors, tripling the current number, but the request has been scaled back given the current state of the economy.
“I think the eMPOWR campaign has brought the problem to the attention of bureaucrats and politicians; the mountain we’re facing is how money is in the federal till,” Duncan said. “I think a year ago they had no idea how big the problem was.”