Training program tries to lure women into IT market

TORONTO — This may be International Women’s Week, but there is still a shortage of distaff workers in IT jobs.

To help address the gender imbalance, an Ontario government-funded training program was launched Tuesday by Minister

Responsible for Women’s Issues Dianne Cunningham.

The program, Information Technology Training for Women (ITTW), is designed to offer a brighter future to women who are unemployed, have low-income jobs, or are recent immigrants to Canada.

Classes will be held at Dixon Hall, a facility in Toronto’s east end, that has provided community-based services since it began as a soup kitchen during the Great Depression. The program will run 10 months and provide education to help women find work as database administrators, Web designers and software developers. “”This is an essential bridge to a high-tech career,”” said Dixon Hall manager Wendy Miller. She noted that many women face an uphill battle attempting to kick-start a career, since they often have to care for a family at the same time.

Government data indicates that women comprise less than 30 per cent of the science and technology workforce. Only 24 per cent of computer science undergraduates are women, compared to almost 60 per cent in all other areas of post-secondary study.

“”Many of us are afraid of things we don’t know about,”” Cunningham told a group of new students. “”You will be able to do it and train others to do it.”” Cunningham handed over a cheque for $298,630 to Miller to get the Dixon Hall program started. There are others underway, including a second centre in Toronto, one in Ottawa and one in Kitchener, Ont. Cunningham said a total of $2 million will be poured into ITTW over three years.

One hundred and fifty women are expected to graduate from the program, who will then be helped to find job placements. The IT job market is still very competitive, according to IDC Canada Ltd. training analyst Julie Kaufman. The generalized skills that ITTW offers aren’t in high demand, she said. “”Companies are really looking for some specific skills (like networking and e-application development). A lot of new entrants into the market will not necessarily have those skills.””

However, ITTW training won’t go for nought. Those generalized IT skills may be applicable to more business-side jobs, said Kaufman, since employers often look to job candidates with a solid grounding in IT knowledge.

“”It does give them a base to work from,”” she said. “”They might be able to get their foot in the door with some of those skills, but their training can’t stop there and they need to realize that this is only a way to start a career.””

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