By Nathan Rudyk

Bruce Cockburn is one of my favourite singer-songwriters, and if I'm having a really tough day with no end in sight his left-wing lyrical rant against right wing ideologies invades my brain: "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse." Fortunately, the clouds always clear and I'm soon humming something more happy like "I get by with a little help from my friends."

Right now, there's no end in sight for Canada's IT skills shortage. Not enough high school students are considering a career in high tech. The siren call of life sciences and (until recently) hedge fund jobs, compounded by the lingering effects of the "dot-bomb" era, has taken its toll. As worrying, the students who do decide to pursue IT programs at the post-secondary level are having a hard time surviving once they're in. Streamlined high school programs just don't give them the core skills they need, and too many drop out.

What does this mean for our economy? According to the Conference Board of Canada, a "perfect storm" of socio-demographic factors, negative perceptions of the tech sector following the bubble burst of 2002, and a significant drop in university enrolment in IT programs across Canada have combined to create a situation where more than 90,000 jobs in the information technology sector will need to be filled in the next two to four years and could potentially impact the Canadian economy to the tune of $10.8 billion, or $120,000 per job, if they can't be filled.

With Canada's highest concentation of creative class jobs, the City of Ottawa's economic development organization, OCRI, simply can't afford to let this brand of normal get worse. So last fall OCRI brought industry partners/mentors from IBM Canada, Macadamian Technologies, Nortel and Ontario Centres of Excellence to create a pilot Ottawa High School Technology Program to turn kids on to IT careers. Our company created a social-media-enabled Web site last fall, and we were tapped to do public relations to call attention to the fact that this program can and should be supported provincially, and even nationally.

So far, the PR campaign has attracted coverage from CTV, CBC, the Ottawa Business Journal, ITWorldCanada, and several other interviews are in the works with both regional and national media. Intranets from program partner companies are also going to carrry our message to thousands of employees.

So, want to help capture a $10.8 billion IT opportunity for Canada? Spread the word by emailing this blog post (see below) about the Ottawa High School Technology Program, especially to your local school board, MPP or MP. Thanks!

(Nathan Rudyk is President and CEO with market2world communications inc., Ottawa, Canada's tech PR and product marketing agency. He encourages his three teenagers to pursue IT careers to the point of distraction.)