Lifelong Learning Extends Career Path
Before Paul Swinwood became president of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), his career included roles as diverse as hardware technician, software systems developer, and president of his own private consulting company specializing in assisting startup organizations. Swinwood says: "I've been involved in the ICT sector for over 50 years and in the training side of it for most of that time. What I realized early on is that without lifelong learning, one becomes obsolete and unemployable." He has been a champion of lifelong learning ever since.
106,000 New IT Workers Needed in the Next Five Years
ICTC recently released a report that identifies the need for 106,000 new Information Technology (IT) workers in Canada over the next five years, due in part to a boom in retirees. Swinwood identifies an important step to address the demand for IT specialists: "We must get high school students interested in IT careers so they will progress to postsecondary school. We must identify the right courses and the right training for these people so that they then transition to jobs in IT."
Swinwood notes: "Getting the students when they are young and putting them through Cisco Networking Academy shows them the fun they can have while learning Information Technology." Cisco and ICTC (formerly Software Human Resource Council) have been collaborating since 1997. Canada started offering Networking Academy courses in 1998, with 15 academies in secondary and postsecondary schools. To date, almost 100,000 Canadian students have taken Networking Academy courses.
A One of a Kind IT Training Program
ICTC has worked with other IT vendors over the years as well. Swinwood describes some differences between these companies and Cisco: "Where Cisco is so far ahead of the rest of the technology companies is in its approach to the educational system and specifically with Networking Academy — the development of the curriculum, its depth and its breadth, and the fact that the schools can afford it. Cisco approaches us with ways to solve education challenges, rather than ways to make their sales goals for the quarter."
Swinwood is also a fan of Passport 21, the entrepreneurial component of Networking Academy that allows students to tackle case studies and practice real-world skills in simulated environments. Swinwood thinks so highly of Passport 21 that ICTC paid to have the component translated into French. To Swinwood, the business skills along with the networking skills that Networking Academy teaches benefit not only individual students, but also the companies that will employee them, and ultimately Canada. "Our Networking Academy graduates can improve the productivity of a company. Having people educated to understand the business picture, the ICT sector, and being able to communicate it clearly — skills taught at Networking Academy — is crucial to Canada's economic development."
Networking Academy Graduates Can Shorten College Time
In 10 provinces and two Canadian territories, ICTC has created a high school program called Focus on IT (FIT) that, along with Networking Academy courses, provides a bridge to universities and community colleges. Students who pass Networking Academy courses in high school receive advanced standing when they start postsecondary school, effectively cutting short their time at university or community college by receiving credit for their high school programs.
Swinwood believes that "Canadian colleges need students in order to stay open. As a result, colleges are now looking at the high schools as a supply system, especially for IT student demand." This need for IT students has prompted a partnership between the educational systems. Swinwood continues: "If the local high school does not have Networking Academy courses, community colleges and universities are prepared to offer their Networking Academy courses to supplement the high school's capabilities." The partnership fosters a pipeline for students and more options for courses.
Success Story: Student Achievement Through Pilot Program "Failure"
ICTC's first pilot program was aimed at a group of students who, at the end of grade 9 or 10, were assessed as not likely to complete high school. Swinwood describes the results of the pilot program: "We ended up with an amazing high school graduation rate of young people taking and completing Networking Academy courses, and getting involved with IT."
Unfortunately, the funding for the pilot program was rescinded. Swinwood explains: "We were funded to get kids through high school and into jobs. Instead, the vast majority of the students decided to go to postsecondary school after graduation. As a result, the pilot program was deemed a failure." Only 3 of the first 100 students entered the job market straight out of high school. The other 97 students went on to college. Fortunately, the pilot program secured new funding from another source to continue, based on the outstanding student retention and progress to postsecondary education.
Encouraging Postsecondary Education Crucial to ICT
According to Swinwood, the ICT sector has its work cut out for it: "If we do not do something as a sector, we are losing enrollment in postsecondary education. We cannot afford that because 80 percent of our current IT workforce has postsecondary graduation certificates, diplomas, or degrees. We need to keep today's students interested enough to pursue more school, and the way to get them interested is to show them what the opportunities are afterwards. Due to the ever-evolving nature of technology, their skills need to evolve over time as well."