Students at Exploits Valley High are going to be pioneers of a sort this year. Their Grand Falls-Windsor high school will be the only school in Newfoundland and Labrador to offer the Focus on Information Technology (FIT) program, a two-year initiative that incorporates practical career training into the high school curriculum.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Council and Nova Central School District launched FIT Sept. 17 at the school.
“This is a wonderful occasion for the school district to come together with partners in education, in particular the Information and Communication Technology Council, and to launch a program that we will initiate at Exploits Valley High School this year,” said Cindy Fleet, director of education with the school district.
“This is all about students and preparing students for future careers in technology.”
The program aims to increase the number of students who graduate from high school with an IT education.
“The advantage of having students involved in this program is that those who are involved in technology will have the opportunity to expand their opportunities and experiences, and as well, maybe some students who have not been exposed to technology in a big way will also have that opportunity,” Fleet said.
“There is an opportunity for students, as well, to graduate from high school with their regular diplomas and certification, but there would be an additional certificate for those who complete the FIT program. These certificates would be at two different levels, depending on the level of achievement.”
Paul Swinwood, president and CEO of the technology council, said the council has been working on the program for approximately six years, and he’s pleased to expand it to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The ICT sector is looking for 170,000 new workers between now and 2014,” Swinwood said.
“We identified that need. The challenge that we have right now is that everyone believes the ICT sector is in the tank, there are no jobs, there is nothing going on in the sector, well I can tell you that we added 33,000 people to the ICT roles in Canada last year.”
He added that the jobs are not just in larger centres.
“What we’re trying to do here is a melding of information technology and the soft skills,” he said. “One of the differences of our program is the delivery and what we are doing around projects, getting the young people to understand how information technology works, not just why. It’s the ability to work in groups, it’s the ability to understand communication skills, it’s the ability to do presentations.”
Swinwood said the technology council tries to work with schools, school districts, school boards and ministries of education in different provinces, and he’s interested in the partnerships they can form with post-secondary institutions in this province.
“It is true, 80 per cent of all IT workers have post-secondary (education) and that number is growing,” Swinwood said. “I encourage the young people of today to look at your high school as your stepping stone to post-secondary. “
FIT is offered in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick and is ready to launch in Prince Edward Island.
“In B.C., where we ran the first pilot, we ran it with a kids-at-risk school and 97 per cent of the kids at risk not only finished high school, but they also went on to post-secondary,” he said.
Craig Wells, the computer technology teacher at Exploits Valley High who will be overseeing the program, said FIT has informally started in that he has started to identify students that would be a good match for the program.
Wells said he is looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity it gives the school.
“The program is both active elements ... we may be teaching them special modules, getting them involved with employers in the workplace, getting them involved with outside certification pathways, as well as the FIT program,” he said.
In the past, Wells added, the school had eight people go through the Cisco Systems course at the College of the North Atlantic, which prepares students for careers in information and communications technology. Six students finished the level of certification, and Wells said two of them are working as engineers and two others are working in the technology industry.
The school has also been part of a co-operative education program, and one student worked with the IT company DP Solutions, and then worked on the software for the Mars Rover during his internship in Ottawa. He is currently a lead programmer for a prominent search engine.
“We can’t take all the credit for his skill set, but we certainly had some programs in place that gave him the opportunity to exercise those skill sets and grow,” Wells said.
“We have a bit of a track record and we are hoping to build on that. We need more of that industry and business in the school, and that partnership, for kids to make the connection between education and the workforce in real life.
“It’s a good thing for the school and for school culture.”
Bob Hepditch, the school’s principal, said FIT helps students look at the big picture and gives them the opportunity to connect it to the workforce.
“I look forward to a really good year and success in this program,” Hepditch said.
Bill Butt, program specialist for the school district, said one benefit of the program is that it starts off in the school but when students go on to post-secondary institutions, they can still access FIT certification.
He said Exploits Valley High was chosen to pilot the program for a number of reasons, including the fact that the district wanted a school that had the resources and a staff motivated to pull off the program, as well as technology infrastructure.
“Also, you need an area where you have enough IT support in the community that you could place students and a community that is probably interested in doing that,” Butt said. “To do a pilot, we thought Exploits Valley High would be our best chance at success in the district.”
Paul Chaffe, campus administrator at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus of College of the North Atlantic, said the college can see a great opportunity to help students move on in their careers.
“We certainly hope that we can build that pathway,” Chaffe said.