Monday, January 02, 2012

Nurturing the Next Generation of IT Workers

In an age where technology seems to drive everything and where information & communication technologies (ICT) are at the heart of most if not all of technological advances, both female and male enrollment in ICT disciplines in Canada, believe it or not, is declining!

One reason behind this complex phenomena is the perception of high-school students of what an ICT career looks like. Mostly, students envisage a geeky type writing code on a computer. These perceptions are amplified by the challenges faced by many high-school teachers in understanding and teaching ICT. It is also supported by the outdated occupational titles used in the federal government's National Occupation Classification (last updated in 2006), which do not reflect the radical changes that ICT professions have undergone in the last few years.

The changes happened gradually. Initially ICT was one of the lines of business and the repository of ICT in the organization. But as ICT became more and more integral part of other business functions such as accounting, sales, operations, marketing, human resources, customer relations etc., they transformed into a horizontal business function spanning all vertical lines of business. As a consequence ICT managers had visibility to all enterprise systems and processes and became therefore the prime candidate for innovating to improve the performance of the enterprise. This in turn required a different type of manager, one that along a sound understanding of technology can also bring deep understanding of the business and the ability to efficiently communicate with the various lines of business in their own jargon.

Another aspect of the same problem can be observed in a number of industries that have recently become heavy users if ICT. Although workers in pharmaceuticals, genomics, or bioinformatics use primarily ICT, when asked about their occupation, they would rarely classify themselves as ICT workers.

Many changes need to happen to address this situation. One is obviously to update the occupational classifications. More importantly there is a need to change the perception of high-school students about the  professions available in an ICT career. A number of CIOs (Chief Information Officers) from a variety of industries are volunteering their time to visit schools and tell students about their profession and their career path. Another activity is to sponsor ICT students and recognize excellence in their work.

As part of the latter, the CIO Association of Canada in collaboration with Ryerson University participates yearly in the Awards Program of the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management through offering the Dr. Catherine Aczel Boivie Scholarship awarded to a student achieving a high standing in the Business Process Design course at the end of the third year. This year I had the privilege of representing the CIO Association in presenting the scholarship to the  2011 recipient, Mehran Vahedi.

I was also thrilled to discover the Dave Codack Academic Achievement Award offered to two students. Dave is a member of the CIO Association and holds the advocacy portfolio on its National Board.

It was a real pleasure to meet many of the brilliant recipients of this year's Award Program during the reception preceding the ceremony. It gives one hope that change is slowly happening but it also highlights how much more work needs to be done. Many more people from all walks of life should get involved to sponsor this and similar activities for the benefit of their children, their organizations and their country.

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