Officials say the number of IT students participating in co-op programs is up 30 per cent year-over-year, raising hopes that a trend of declining tech-related enrolment may be receding.
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The University of Ottawa's Tabaret Hall.
The increase comes against of a backdrop of a university-wide decrease in co-op placements, as well as a steep drop in IT students enrolling at the university in recent years.
The shortage of students came despite an abundance of job placements. For every 10 co-op placements available in the IT sector, there was only about one student, said Gaby St-Pierre, the director of co-operative education at the university.
But over the past couple of years, the university has made a point of expanding the IT program, which includes computer science as well as computer, electrical and software engineering programs.
“Basically, as long as they meet admissions requirements, we’ve been admitting all the IT students we can,” Mr. St-Pierre said. “The reason we did that was because we believe the market can take it and that there are sufficient jobs locally.”
Efforts are underway to encourage more students to consider a career in IT. A collaboration between industry and education officials, TechU.me, work with high school students to inform them about career opportunities in the IT sector.
Although co-op programs took a big hit overall at the university last year as the federal government cut back its staff and limited the number of co-op placements it took on, IT students were mostly immune from that trend.
“Even though there has been a decrease in the public sector in social services, it hasn’t happened in IT. It’s a line of work that in my mind is always in demand,” Mr. St-Pierre said.
This year, 116 IT students have enrolled in the co-op program, and Mr. St-Pierre believes the university will find placements for all of them. In 2012, 84 out of 89 students in the IT co-op program found placements, compared to 93 out of 95 students in 2011.
Those numbers are still not back up where they used to be – in 2001, for example, 203 U of O students applied for co-op in an IT program. In 2002, that number dropped to 172 and continued to decline from there. By 2007, only 36 students applied for an IT co-op position – down 82 per cent from 2001.
Marc-André Daoust, associate director of co-op programs at the U of O, said in an interview with OBJ last March that he feared the drop was a hangover from the tech crash in Ottawa at the turn of the millenium.
But Mr. St-Pierre said it’s a trend that is finally turning around with multiple opportunities in the local job market. Additionally, private companies that take on a co-op student are eligible for a $3,000 tax credit, which makes it a win-win situation for both sides.
Despite the impact that federal cuts had on the university’s co-op program last year, enrollment rates are still up by 25 per cent across all departments over the past four years, Mr. St-Pierre said.
The problem becomes trying to maintain supply and demand – taking on enough students to fill the available job placements. That’s why so many IT students were admitted to the program, but it’s also why the university has been limiting admissions for disciplines with a higher percentage placement rate in the public sector, including social science and arts programs.