Nfld. & Labrador

Is coding the new cod? Thousands of tech workers needed in N.L., CNA says

A three-year co-op program launching at two campuses this fall is designed to fit the needs of the province's growing tech industry, CNA says.

Stephen Warren says tech industry 'needs thousands of people in the next few years'

The software development program will be offered at both the Prince Philip Drive CNA campus and in Corner Brook. (CBC)

A new three-year program at the College of the North Atlantic is designed to fill a growing need for software developers in the province's tech sector grows, says the dean of the institution's business school.

The program aims to get students ready to fill the coding shortage already facing Newfoundland and Labrador, says Stephen Warren, dean of CNA's School of Business and Information Technology — a gap likely to only get worse, with about 3,000 of the province's 8,000 workers in the information and communications technologies sector close to retirement,

"We're looking at thousands of people [needed] in the next few years," he said.

The co-op diploma program, launching in fall 2020 in both St. John's and Corner Brook, was designed to fit the needs of the 35 locally operating companies consulted during its development, Warren told The St. John's Morning Show.

Those companies are part of an industry now worth $1.5 billion annually in the province, according to a recent report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council more than tourism or the traditional fishery. 

That industry is set to grow in the coming years, with financing coming in from across the country and beyond. Verafin, a 500-employee company based in St. John's that makes software that roots out financial fraud, announced more than $500 million in new venture funding in September. CoLab, another software startup in the province, participated in the prestigious Y Combinator incubator last summer and last week announced $2.7 million in new funding, including some from Silicon Valley investors.

Between the expected growth in the sector and the potential retirement of many of its more senior employees, the importance of contributing to the talent pipeline was clear from the beginning of the development of this program, Warren said.

"Through our primary and secondary research, it became clear very early on in the process that the big demand right now would be for entry-level software developers."

Fitting industry needs

The program has been in the works in one way or another for a couple of years. After Warren became the dean of business and IT at the college in fall 2017, an environmental assessment on the state of industry indicated that the need for software developers was there. 

We've really got to make sure that we're getting out as many students as possible.- Stephen Warren

In March 2018, CNA submitted a preliminary proposal to develop the program, and a year later it was approved by the academic council. The school plans to admit 50 students to the Corner Brook and Prince Philip Drive campuses for the program's first cohort, Warren said. In the next three to five years, CNA hopes to expand the program to more campuses.

"We've really got to make sure that we're getting out as many students as possible."

The program includes three co-op segments that will give its students paid, hands-on workplace experience before graduation something that was important to the companies consulted, he said. 

"We hear from the industry what they need in terms of supporting them and their success, and we design and tailor programs to align directly with that," Warren said.

Another thing that was important, and that has been built into the program, is that students leave it familiar with a variety of programming languages.

"This program, in particular, is tailor-made to the industry as it stands right now," he said.

One-year program in the works

Students coming straight out of high school will be eligible to apply to the software development program, Warren said, and those whose marks in English and math aren't high enough can avail of the college's bridging programs. 

Making high schoolers, and kids even younger, aware of the opportunities this program would prepare them for is key for the tech sector in the province, he said.

"It's very important to get young people introduced to technology as a possible career early on."

Programs that introduce coding and other tech skills to students of all ages are valuable, says Stephen Warren. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

To that end, CNA works with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries for an annual Innovation Week event that introduces Grade 9 students to technology in the province. Warren also pointed to the work being done by Brilliant Labs for young students in all grades, including the summer camps run by the organization and CNA in several places in the province.

However, the program is not only intended for those coming directly out of high school, he said. It's also an option for people changing careers, though they might also want to wait for another program the college is working on: a post-graduate diploma in software development that will teach some of the same coding skills to students who already have a diploma or degree.

"We're currently developing a one-year post-diploma version of this, which will be presented to academic council in the coming March, and that's going to be for people who are mid-career, who maybe are looking to switch streams and get into something completely different, and another way for us to boost the number of developers in the province," Warren said.

Applications for the software development three-year program in St. John's and Corner Brook are expected to open in the next seven to 10 days.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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