To encourage more youngsters to enroll in computer science courses, the industry needs to do a better job at spreading the good news around an IT career: It pays really well.
That's one of the recommendations that came out of a gathering Wednesday of Canadian educators and industry analysts to outline their views on the lack of qualified workers in the IT and networking industry. At a panel discussion at its headquarters, Cisco Canada said the Canadian IT sector requires approximately 35,000 new hires annually to keep up with the employment demand.
However, only about 7,000 students graduate each year in computer sciences, computer engineering and other IT-related disciplines.
"The media took the Y2K hangover, the dot com burst and the lack of enrolment and really amplified it," said Mauro Lollo, co-founder and CTO at technology solutions provider UNIS LUMIN, and one of the speakers at the event.
"So, young minds working their way through school has seen this and steered away from IT," he said, adding that one solution could be for the industry to try and stress the earnings and growth potential to high school students who are still deciding on their career paths.
"I've found it interesting that those kids who haven't listened to the mainstream and gotten into IT are coming out earning more, with better potential career opportunities than their peers," Lollo said. "Whenever I do pep talks at school to try and get them interested in IT, I drive in with a new car hoping that will motivate them."
The panel discussion formed part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Cisco Networking Academy. The initiative is a global e-learning program which gives students the opportunity to pursue IT-related courses through online training and hands-on workshops. Over 10,000 academies are located in high schools, technical schools, colleges, and universities in about 160 countries.
"The picture in Canada is bleak and we believe there is a significant problem," said Paul Swinwood, president of the Information and Communications Technology Council.
"At colleges and universities we're seeing a 30 to 70 per cent drop in enrolment," he added.
Putting the stats aside, many of the panelists mulled over some of the reasons why there is IT skills shortage in the first place. A common theme throughout the discussion centered on the need for IT to gain exposure and get on the radar of young students in elementary and high school.
"One of the most popular shows that young people are watching is CSI, so it's no surprise that the universities are flooding with courses related to that," Pam Baldaro, a Cisco Networking Academy instructor at West Kildonan Collegiate, said.
"It's hard to funnel kids into IT when there's no profile for it. We have to find a way to get it out there and make it more interesting for kids to try it," Baldaro added.