High school coders expected to fill huge job demand

The demand for tech-savvy workers is on the rise across North America, and some groups are predicting a major shortfall in the number of workers qualified to fill those jobs.

Teachers want coding to be mandatory in school curriculum, just like reading, writing and arithmetic

At St. Anne Catholic High school, Tuesday, students sat in the classroom learning computer languages like Swift, Java and Python. (Laura DaSilva/CBC)

Windsor's Catholic school board expanded its computer science classes this year to get students ready for a surging demand in digital jobs expected to hit Canada in the next few years.

The demand for tech-savvy workers is on the rise across North America and some groups are predicting a major shortfall in the number of workers qualified to fill those jobs.

To better prepare students, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board launched a coding pilot program in three high schools last year. This fall, the program expands to Assumption College.

"What we've noticed is we've spent a lot of time making our students good users or consumers of technology, but now we want to focus on making them producers of technology," said Douglas Sadler, who oversees information technology programming for the board.

Digital job demand grows

The program allows students from Grades 10 to 12 to enroll in elective courses to learn coding and to build their own games and applications.

At St. Anne Catholic High school in Lakeshore Tuesday, students sat in the classroom learning computer languages such as Swift, Java and Python.

Karen Gayowsky teaches coding at St. Anne Catholic High school.

These are the types of skills that can vault a young coder into high-demand jobs. According to a recent report from the Information and Communications Technology Council, the growth in digital jobs has outpaced job growth in the overall economy in the past two years by more than four to one.

An estimated 182,000 tech jobs will need to be filled by 2019, while skilled workers are expected to be in demand.

There is a "need to ensure that new graduates have the practical knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce quickly and add value to Canadian businesses," the report concludes.

Mandatory coding recommended

Karen Gayowsky is part of a growing group of teachers who want coding to be a mandatory part of school curriculum. The computer science teacher at St. Anne Catholic High school worked in IT for more than 20 years and has been teaching for the past five.

"There's no industry that computers do not touch, whether you're going into computer science or going into mobile app development or agriculture, health care, education," she said. "You need to have these types of skills to be able to troubleshoot your everyday life or to help others."

A group in the U.S. is making strides in the education system when it comes to teaching coding. Jeremy Keeshin is the CEO and co-founder of Code HS, which provides web-based curriculum, tools and resources to help teachers introduce coding in schools.

Like many proponents of computer programming, Keeshin feels coding should be mandatory, just like reading, writing and arithmetic.

"You expect everyone who graduates to be able to read and write, not because you're going to become a professional reader or writer, but because you use reading and writing every day, no matter what you do," he said.

Catholic schools in Windsor-Essex are trying to reach students even earlier than high school. Students are introduced to robotics as early as senior kindergarten as a way to get more students engaged in the tech field.