Business community seeks more computer grads

John Roth, president and CEO of Northern Telecom Limited, met with University of Calgary leaders on May 12 to talk about his com

Roth announced Nortel is investing $10 million in its Calgary operations, including a 60,000-square-foot office and research facility to heighten its presence in the wireless communications industry.

Nortel is presently the world's third-largest producer of wireless products and its Calgary operations export about $2 billion worth of products a year. The company employs about 2,700 people, including 500 researchers.

Nortel is very dependent on universities to provide us with our people... Our intellectual capital is our biggest asset.

John Roth

Roth said each year Nortel recruits an astounding one-quarter of Canada's university graduates in computer science and electrical and computer engineering. He added he is very concerned about the decreasing number of computer graduates in Canada.

In a CBC-radio interview on May 7, Roth said compared to G7 countries, Canada lags behind in its ability to train and develop computer professionals. "In fact, (Canada) lags many of the countries that aren't in the G7."

UCalgary President Terry White told Roth that Calgary's university is seeking provincial funding to double the number of graduates from the departments of computer science and electrical and computer engineering. Currently about 250 students graduate from these programs. But the demand for computer professionals in Calgary is estimated to be between two to three times greater.

In a survey of Calgary businesses about a year and a half ago, conducted by the Calgary Research and Development Authority (CRDA), the chronic shortage of qualified information technology professionals was cited as local industry's most serious roadblock. The survey also found that the rapidly shrinking supply of computer professionals will soon force employers to rely more on new graduates and that these graduates need to be able to communicate and think critically in addition to having cutting-edge technical skills.

At the UCalgary meeting, Roth said Nortel campaigned hard for the Ontario government to expand its post-secondary computer programs. And it worked.

In its 1998 provincial budget, the Ontario government invested $150 million over three years to double enrolment in its university computer science and engineering programs. This program, called Access to Opportunities, will provide up to 17,000 new spaces for students each year in Ontario.

We're hoping that we can duplicate Ontario's success in Alberta... We're interested in the diversification of Alberta. Brain power is where it's at in the new knowledge era.

Terry White

The Nortel-UCalgary meeting also gave several prominent UCalgary researchers a chance to show how Nortel's financial support is being put to work on campus.

Nortel supports several initiatives at UCalgary, including three UCalgary research chairs -- the Industrial Chair in Software Engineering/Manufacturing, Nortel Chair in Intelligent Manufacturing and Chair in Management of Technological Change (Project Management).

Originally posted in Gazette, May 19, 1998