SHRC Co-op program gives grads a leg up

The Software Human Resource Council has secured a three-year contract with the federal government to provide funding for the Career Focus program to assist IT employers to hire recent IT graduates.

The program was in limbo earlier this year before the federal Treasury Board approved the budget – which covers one-third of the eligible participants’ salary up to a maximum of $10,000 over a maximum 12-month work period. The program is a national initiative and receives funding from the federal government’s Sector Council Program under the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada department.

Now in its fifth year, the Career Focus program has had 330 graduates of which 98 per cent have gone on to full-time employment. There are currently 50 companies – mostly small and medium-sized enterprises – that are involved. Approximately 1,000 employers have participated in the program to date. SHRC matches recent grads to companies and has their applications on its Web site.

“We work with the companies across Canada plus making this program visible through the post-secondary educational system so that students who are graduating know about it and allow the companies and individuals match themselves together,” said Paul Swinwood, president of SHRC, which is based in Ottawa.

One of last year’s employer participants was Markham, Ont.-based IT consulting firm DapaSoft Inc.. Company CEO Stephen Chan said the program is an excellent opportunity for grads to get their foot in the door.

“I love to hire young talent,” said Chan, who hired six graduates as a result of the program last year. “All of them are still here and are doing an excellent job.”

The program provides an opportunity for young people to acquire the skills within a real-world work environment and not just a classroom. That was one of the main reasons Bob Pryslak, co-op coordinator for computer and mathematical sciences at University of Toronto Scarborough Campus recommended co-op to his two sons. A 28-year veteran in the IT industry, Pryslak used to do co-op placements for Bell Canada. He often could pick out which students had practical experience and which ones didn’t pretty easily.

“Typically I would be able to tell in first few minutes if they had the knowledge, experience and background,” said Pryslak. “More often a co-op grad would have a better skillset than a non-co-op grad.”

In terms of benefits, Pryslak said co-op students learn in a business environment with an employer and gain practical working skills.

While the Career Focus Program has been successful in its five-year run, Swinwood said the globalized nature of the workforce in recent years is making it increasingly difficult for recent grads to find meaningful employment in Canada.

“The major problem we’re having these days is with the increasing level of knowledge demanded within the IP sector,” said Swinwood. “A lot of the entry level jobs have ended up going to multi-national firms and a lot of stuff has gone offshore.”

Similarly, Chan, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong 30 years ago, said he has seen friends leave Canada to go back to Hong Kong to find jobs that they couldn’t get here. Chan said he would like to see more support from provincial and federal government to hire young people, who he believes are some of the best-trained workers in the world. He plans on hiring two more grads this year.

“Young people are leaving Canada because there’s not enough work,” said Chan. “All they need is the first chance. We have the best young people trained in Canada in IT. There’s no reason why we should lose out to other countries.”

The program is set to run starting immediately until March 21, 2008 when it will be up for renewal by the Treasury Board.

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