In the town where I grew up high school students did three things when they graduated—some went to work, some went to university and the others went to technical school.
The most popular technical school at that time was the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. This school is similar to BCIT.
Back in those days, many young men (more men than women) enrolled in two-year technology diplomas.
Today, if I were to ask a group of high school students if they knew what a mechanical engineering technologist did or if they knew anything about technology programs, I probably wouldn’t find many who did.
For some reason these programs have fallen off the radar, yet the demand for technologists and technicians couldn’t be greater.
Today, there are 4.5 million technologists, technicians and technology workers in Canada.
According to the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC Association (ASTTBC), almost half of the workers in these jobs are expected to retire in the next 10 years (probably all those people I went to school with).
On top of that the B.C. and the Canadian economy are forecasting steady growth in both the high-tech sector and technology-based processes.
ASTTBC argues that there is a disconnect between the rising demand for these types of workers and the awareness by teachers, parents and students about the career opportunities associated with this type of work.
This largest disconnect is really apparent in the school system in which so many youth are unaware of these programs even though students have been graduating from technology diploma programs in Kelowna for well over 30 years.
Okanagan College offers five distinct technology diploma programs: Civil Engineering Technology, Electronic Engineering Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Network and Telecommunications Engineering Technology, and Water Engineering Technology.
All these programs have a co-operative education stream, which means students can choose to blend work with learning, alternating semesters of study with paid work placements in their field of study.
For example, a student could study for three semesters, then work for a year, go back to school for another four months and complete their final semester, graduate and secure full-time employment. This student would not only complete a diploma but would also benefit from great work experience.
The chance to work during their program also means the student may graduate with little or no student debt.
I don’t know why these programs aren’t as popular today as they were when I graduated from high school considering the wages are quite good.
According to the association, technology professionals can expect annual wages ranging from $60,000 to $125,000.
I have visited all the technology labs at Okanagan College, and I can tell you that these students get to learn some interesting stuff and do the wildest things.
For example, the Network and Telecommunications students a few years ago provided computer support to delegates for the International Organizational Development Association’s annual conference.
They had to configure computers with German, Korean and Dutch versions of Windows.
These programs are hands-on where you actually get to work on projects and do some neat stuff instead of just taking notes.
The engineering technology programs also open doors.
While work opportunities for technologists are plentiful and growing, graduates can later choose to use their education to advance to an engineering degree.
If you lean towards the practical side of things, it’s worth looking into these programs.
Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College, comments can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.