Edmonton

Alberta companies struggle to hire IT grads

Fewer students are training for careers in information technology even as businesses in Alberta are clamouring for IT specialists.

Fewer students are training for careers in information technology even as businesses in Alberta are clamouring for IT specialists.

Upside Software, which develops contract management programs, has grown in success since it launched in 2000, landing deals with Microsoft, Boeing and Hewlett Packard. But CEO Ashif Mawji worries that progress might be derailed if he can't hire the IT whizzes he needs.

"It's actually quite troubling to see the low number of grads enrolling into the programs, like at NAIT," he said.

Last year,95 students graduated from the Computer Systems Technology program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, compared to 320 in 2001.

Sia Samimi, chair of the NAIT program, blames the dot-com bust for the decline in the number of students, but points out that demand for IT staff in Alberta has nearly doubled since last year.

"So we're faced with monumental challenges in terms of meeting the demands of the IT industry," he said.

The dropping enrolment in IT and computer sciencesis a trend across North America as companies struggle to compete with each other for fewer and fewer graduates.

"I'd prefer to hire right here … and hire locally. But the problem is that we still need to grow and we still need people, so we have to start looking elsewhere and a lot of companies are doing that," said Mawji.

The shortage of IT specialists in Alberta is also forcing local companies to change their business plan.

"If we're going to expand, we've been thinking about opening a U.S. office rather than trying to grow the business here," said Bording Ostergaard, CEO of Optrics Engineering in Edmonton.

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