By Steve Reside

I just returned from the launch of the Ottawa High School Technology Program — a joint initiative between the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) and many private and public sector partners, including; IBM, Nortel, Dell, RIM, Microsoft, Macadamian, Ottawa Carleton Public School Board, Ottawa Separate School Board, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Algonquin, among others.

The program's goal is to help off-set the growing demand for skilled technology workers in Ottawa by re-establishing computer engineering and computer science as viable career options in the minds of area high school students.

The idea for the initiative sprung out of a conversation between Fred Boulanger, President of Macadamian Software, and Kelly Daize, OCRI's Manager of Business Development and Cluster Support. Macadamian is a software product development company that partners with other organizations when those companies don't have enough (or the right type) of in-house talent. Through his role at Macadamian, Fred has a unique perspective on the state of IT talent in Ottawa.

"If Ottawa is to maintain its position as a technology leader, it is critical that we ensure that we have a sustainable talent pipeline. After executing a number of initiatives with a local high school it became clear that the programs with the greatest impact on the students were the ones that allowed them to explore leading edge technology under the mentorship of industry experts. With this concept in mind this pilot project was born."   Fred Boulanger, Macadamian Software
The Ottawa High School Technology Program is a direct result of those initial discussions. You can read OCRI's press release about the program, or visit the Web site that the students themselves have established to help facilitate internal and external program communications.

The future looks bright

Program participant at today's launch programming the XO laptopI had the good fortune to work with a small group of Ottawa area high school students when the program was first being established. OCRI asked me to speak to the student's about the role of communications (both internal and external to an organization) and how the Ottawa High School Technology Program might take advantage of today's social media tools to better facilitate those communications. The result of the students work is the Ottawa High School Technology Program Web site. The site has an external (public) side to it where those attending the program and the general public can read about the initiative and monitor student activities. The site also has a private, secure section where teachers, program partners, and students can exchange information that is not intended for public consumption (assignments, background material, course material, etc.).

If my experience is any indication, the future looks bright for the Ottawa talent pool. To a person, these young adults were inquisitive, bright and ambitious. Not only do they see the potential of technology, but they quickly adapt it to real life problems and opportunities. So breathe a sigh of relief tech CEOs, the future of Ottawa's high tech workforce looks very bright indeed.

But what about today?

The good news is that these types of initiatives do have an impact on enrollment in post-secondary technology programs. Both Carleton and Ottawa University are reporting increased enrollment in their Computer Science and Computer Engineering faculties this year — a direct result of efforts on their part in educating students about the future opportunities in high tech.

But what can organizations do today to help offset the shortage of skilled technology talent? In a previous life as a Senior Resourcing Manager at Nortel, I lived through the "talent wars" of the late 1990s. During that time we learned that in order to help our product development organizations meet their deliverables, we had to take a number of different approaches.

If you are struggling to find and attract the right type of talent, here are five things you should be doing to help alleviate the problem:

  1. Articulate your company's "employee value proposition": While most companies do a pretty good job of telling potential customers about their product and service offerings, far fewer put enough effort into communicating to potential employees why they might want to work for them. Talk to your employees (new hires and veterans alike) to get a sense of what it is your company offers that is of most value to them — and then tell the world!
  2. Take advantage of all the communications channels available to you: Don't rely only on your Web site alone to tell your story. There are a number of organizations and online communities that you should be leveraging. Find out what programs OCRI is offering in your industry cluster, go to the local colleges and universities and participate in their initiatives, sponsor learning events for undergraduates, heck, attend a couple of post-secondary classes yourself to see who's there and what they care about!
  3. Tell your company's story on 82000reaons.com: Just last week I talked to a senior manager who moved to Ottawa to join a local high tech company. He told me that the tipping point for him when deciding to make the move was reading the company's profile on 82000reasons.com — and seeing first hand the vibrant Ottawa tech community.
  4. Words are not enough: In today's world you have to communicate in as many ways as you possibly can to reach your target — and video is increasingly a channel of choice. Check out these videos from MapleWorks Technologies to see a good example of how to use video to sell your company to potential employees.
  5. You don't have to go it alone: If you can't find the right people to staff your available technology positions, all is not lost. There are some great software development companies in the Ottawa area that you can partner with to help meet both short and long term development milestones. Macadamian Technologies, bitHeads and MapleWorks Technologies all have highly skilled technology workers to help you meet your deliverables.

And if you are having trouble getting your message out to potential employees, give market2world a call. We'll assess what you are doing right, what you could improve on, and help you establish a program to position you as a destination of choice for high tech workers.

(Steve Reside is Vice President and Creative Director with market2world communications inc., Ottawa, Canada's tech PR and product marketing agency.)

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