By Margaret Magner
Special to The Guardian
Career prospects for students targeting employment in P.E.I.’s innovation technology sector are flourishing as the industry continues to thrive.
Recent graduates are encountering employment opportunities almost unheard of in other sectors.
“There are three jobs for every student on the Island, top-paying jobs here right after graduation,” says David LeBlanc, chair of UPEI’s Computer Science and Information Technology Department.
“Companies are lined up to hire them. Placement rates are almost 100 per cent.”
Superior post-secondary training available in P.E.I. is preparing students to succeed in these foundational and in-demand positions. UPEI’s four-year Computer Science and Information Technology program is producing a new generation of computer scientists, exceling in both broad industry and traditional IT companies, and making their mark in emerging niches such as video game development, eHealth, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interface design.
Students graduating from Holland College’s two-year Computer Information Systems (CIS) and Computer Networking Technology (CNT) programs are establishing thriving careers.
Students at both institutions are mastering business skills in collaboration, problem solving, project management, and communication — along with technological expertise — as employers increasingly recognize IT’s pivotal role in advancing business growth and customer relationships.
As a result, training in computer science, computer programming, and network technology is opening new doors to a broad range of sectors, including education, healthcare, gaming, financial services, government, and aerospace, with starting salaries of $45,000-to-$60,000 upon graduation and $50,000-to-$70,000 with increased experience.
Close ties with P.E.I.’s IT sector ensure these post-secondary programs reflect emerging trends and the realities graduates are finding in the marketplace. Industry leaders make it a priority to act as program advisors, review curriculum, and promote student opportunities. They share their expertise in student classrooms, including recently designed courses in video game programming at UPEI and eHealth at Holland College’s Summerside Waterfront Campus.
Student co-op programs and on-the-job training provide hands-on experience and industry relationships that generate employment offers upon graduation. Some 50 per cent of UPEI students choose the optional five-year computer science co-op program, incorporating four paid work terms.
Holland College students experience mandatory on-the-job training with local companies in the last 10 weeks of their two-year diploma programs. Additional alternatives are available for Holland College CIS students with both a four-year part-time and distance-learning options.
This commitment to ensuring students are well prepared for career success attracts a significant number of mature workers to the programs, intent on rethinking their occupation. Some 40 to 50 per cent in Holland College’s CIS and CNT programs are adult learners returning to school.
The accomplishments of past graduates inspire current students. Alumni are exceling in a diverse range of organizations, often as directors in their field. They have won national recognition — although the majority is intent on pursuing productive careers in P.E.I..
Some graduates such as UPEI alumnus Ron Myers, co-founder of Thinking BIG Information Technology Inc., have created successful IT companies based on hard work and innovation.
Alumnus Scott Bateman, who recently joined UPEI’s Computer Science faculty, has chosen an academic career. A graduate of the program in which he now teaches, he earned a Ph.D. specializing in collaborative/social computing, and interaction techniques for video games.
Home again in P.E.I., he is actively reaching out to young people, teaching an introduction to computer programming at Charlottetown’s Stonepark Intermediate School.
“It’s important to connect with students early on to ensure they understand what working in IT is all about,” says Bateman. “Stonepark students create and post games online for others to play globally.”
He responds to those who may consider computer science challenging or geeky,
“It’s cool to build your own apps that can be used by anyone, anywhere. Facebook was essentially programmed by kids in a dorm room — they’re billionaires now and have changed the world forever.”
Margaret Magner, Ph.D., is a freelance journalist in Charlottetown (www.magnerink.com). This is one in a series of articles on P.E.I.’s innovation and technology industry.