An Ottawa college program designed to feed workers to former high-tech employers like Nortel and JDS Uniphase is being phased out.

"It is suffering from quite low demand," Doug Wotherspoon, executive director of advancement at Algonquin College, said of the Bachelor of Applied Technology photonics program.

Last year, he said, only nine of 24 spots in the program were filled.

Photonics, the name given to light-driven technologies like fibre optics networking, was a growing area of the telecommunications sector in Ottawa at the turn of the millennium.

In 2000, the city was home to giants Nortel, which had 90,000 employees worldwide at the time, including 17,000 in Ottawa. That year, JDS Uniphase, a competitor in the same sector, employed 15,000 people. Together, the industry earned Ottawa the nickname "Silicon Valley North."

In 2001, when the technology bubble burst and the value of stocks in the industry crashed, JDS dramatically slashed its worldwide workforce and moved its headquarters to California. Nortel struggled and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. It has since sold off all its major divisions. But those companies' subsequent demise as local institutions weren't the only trend responsible for dimming interest in the college's program, which launched in 2006.

Move to China

Mike Darch, executive director of global marketing at the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, said the local photonics industry marches on.

"The photonics demand is growing, but the area of the supply chain where Ottawa is now specialized and succeeding … is more the R and D activity," he said.

The Algonquin College program, launched in 2006, was aimed at graduates who wanted to become technicians and technologists, supporting manufacturing.

Since then, Darch said, "a lot of the low-cost production jobs moved to China, so the driver behind those jobs has slowly gone."

However, he said there is still a demand for workers in photonics research and development.

Algonquin College is considering cuts to many of its programs, including tool-making and horticulture, so it can get into new programs like video game development and expand more popular programs.