Ontario puts $2.7M towards IT training for low-income women

The Ontario government on Wednesday announced $2.7 million in funding for educational training for low-income women looking to pursue careers in the information and communications technology sector.

Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues Sandra Pupatello made the announcement at the Community MicroSkills Development Centre in Toronto, one of two institutions where the training will be delivered. Funding will also go to support training at Conestoga College in Kitchener. MicroSkills will receive the bulk of the funding at just over $2 million, with Conestoga at just over $750,000.

MicroSkills is a not-for-profit charitable organization that is run by a volunteer board of directors. It provides services to assist the unemployed or underemployed in the Greater Toronto Area with a focus on youth, minorities, women and immigrants.

Jane Wilson, director of women’s services at MicroSkills, said the extra money means that MicroSkills will be able to offer the same program in the city’s east end in the next two to four months.

“We feel that this is a major commitment from the government to invest in the economic independence of women,” said Wilson. “That was something that was strongly stressed by Sandra Pupatello at the announcement.”

MicroSkills has been receiving funding for its program from the Ontario Women’s Directorate since 2001. The programs are up to a year in length and focus on three areas: women who have little or no background in computers; women who have some background but are not as familiar with the technical side; and immigrant women who have backgrounds in science and technology but whose qualifications aren’t recognized in the Canadian labour fource. MicroSkills’s current program enrolls 240 women over two years with program size around 20 students.

The Ontario government has provided a total of $1.7 million to programs that provide IT training to low-income women over the past three and a half years.

In a press release statement, Minister Pupatello said the McGuinty government is on the side of low-income women in Ontario who want to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

MicroSkills has been doing employment skills training for 20 years. When the technology market took off in the late 90s, the centre decided to create a program for women to get them working in that sector, said Wilson.

“Microskills determined that unless we developed a women-focused service, that women would be left behind,” said Wilson. “We established a women’s technology institute and developed programming that we thought would help women make a transition from other backgrounds into the information technology sector.”

But more work is needed, as a November labour force survey from the Software and Human Resource Council showed that women only make up 25 per cent of the IT workforce. Further, a survey from the University of Engineering and Enrollment survey in April 2005 showed that 18 per cent of female students are enrolled in undergraduate computer science-related courses.

“(Women) are poorly represented in the ICT workforce,” said John Boufford, president of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

Boufford, however, is encouraged by the Ontario government’s announcement.

“We think the program announced today is a great first step to launch IT careers for these women,” he said.

CIPS has a personal interest in the subject with its Women in IT (WIT) program, which strives to get young women in high school interested in careers in the computer science field.

The McGuinty government’s other recent initiatives include a $1.5 million investment in the Women in Skilled Trades program and investing $4 million per year in a new Employment Innovations Fund to expand job opportunities for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program recipients.

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