Economic Development Cowichan (EDC) and partners are pleased to report that the Cowichan Tech Training Initiative has reached a milestone – the completion of an inclusive industry-focused tech curriculum for Cowichan.
The initiative, launched in 2019, aims to develop a local tech training program to serve the needs of Cowichan’s tech employers. In consultation with the Project Steering Committee and members of the local tech industry, Vancouver Island University (VIU) staff have developed a custom curriculum for a tech training program for their Cowichan Campus in Duncan. VIU is working towards implementation of this program, which is proposed for fall 2022.
In 2018, EDC published the Cowichan Tech Strategy, which outlined steps to encourage the development of the local tech industry. Two key findings of this work included a shortage of skilled tech workers in the region and a lack of local training programs related to tech. This led to the recommendation to develop local tech training programs to serve the needs of Cowichan businesses looking for entry-level tech employees. In 2019, EDC successfully secured funding from the BC Rural Dividend Program to develop a Cowichan-specific tech curriculum in partnership with VIU, School District 79 and Community Futures Cowichan.
A Project Steering Committee was established with representation from EDC, VIU, School District 79, Community Futures Cowichan, Cowichan Tribes, Innovation Island, and Traction on Demand. EDC would like to thank the members of the committee for their commitment to this project and their invaluable input into the curriculum development process.
Given the core goal of developing a curriculum that specifically meets the needs of local tech employers, it was important to the Project Steering Committee to directly involve local tech companies in the project. EDC staff conducted phone interviews and an online survey to seek input and information from Cowichan tech employers that informed the development of the custom Cowichan tech curriculum.
With the survey data in hand, as well as input from the Project Steering Committee, VIU developed a one-year Cowichan Tech Program curriculum with a focus on systems administration and networking skills. The curriculum also includes several web and mobile development components, which were identified as an emerging need, and a four-week work placement to give students the opportunity to apply their skills and develop a relationship with a local tech company.
The curriculum was designed to allow students to complete their first year of tech training at VIU’s Cowichan Campus, and then to enter the second year of one of the two diploma courses offered by the Information Technology and Applied Systems (ITAS) department at VIU’s Nanaimo Campus. This will enable Cowichan students to receive a broad level of study in the first year and then to choose a specialization in the second year where they can complete a diploma in either Systems Administration and Networking, or Web and Mobile Development.
Bridging Gaps to Tech Careers
A key aim of the project was to research how the initiative can best serve and encourage the participation of youth within the Duncan and Cowichan Tribes communities. It was identified that some prospective students will not have the baseline skills and/or awareness of the industry to be successful in the program. The Project Steering Committee determined that in order to more fully support youth, Indigenous and immigrant entry and success in the program, a short essential skills course should be developed.
VIU was contracted to design a syllabus for a Technology Fundamentals course to help prepare potential applicants to apply for the one-year Cowichan Tech Program, or to directly find work in the tech sector. The course provides an overview of the technology industry, as well as industry-specific training, and also focusses on essential skills for success. The course includes a job shadow component, and helps students develop their resume, cover letter and interview skills so they can make a successful transition into the full one-year program or to employment in the industry.
“The ITAS program at VIU and the Professional Development & Training department at Cowichan Campus are proud to be a part of this education building process,” said Graham White, ITAS Department Chair, and Nancy Hamilton, Manager of Professional Development and Training for the Cowichan Campus. “The world of Information Technology is growing rapidly and the need for IT skills-based training is essential for the modern workforce. Providing courses and experiential training opportunities for a diverse range of prospective students is the first step in a pathway to a very exciting and rewarding career!”
Tech Industry Development
The 2018 Cowichan Tech Strategy also found very limited networking opportunities between tech companies in the region. As a result, it was important to include such opportunities as part of this project.
Innovation Island Technology Association was contracted to host a series of tech networking and professional development events under the heading Cowichan Talks Tech, which took place virtually in November 2020. An inspirational session on technology in the modern economy was followed by two workshops: Pitch & Present, and Funding Sources.
“During a difficult transition and adjustment period, in more ways than we care to count, the Cowichan EDC effectively managed a dynamic curriculum development process that addressed some challenging needs – setting an exciting course for many years to come,” said Graham Truax, Executive Director and Executive in Residence at Innovation Island. “It was an honour to work with diverse stakeholders and dig deep on the tougher issues that we all face in a changing world and economy. Kudos to all involved as we head into 2022!”
The Cowichan Tech Training Program will now move into an implementation phase internally within Vancouver Island University. The aim is to begin offering the Technology Fundamentals essential skills course in June 2022, followed by the one-year Cowichan Tech Program in Fall 2022. Once these programs are implemented at VIU Cowichan Campus, students will no longer need to leave Cowichan for training, and they will have the opportunity to develop relationships with Cowichan tech companies through co-operative placements. Since many co-op placements result in continued employment, the program will serve to train and then retain skilled tech workers with well-paying jobs in the Cowichan region. It will also strengthen the local tech industry by allowing companies to expand their workforce and respond to skill and labour shortages.
Economic Development Cowichan and the Steering Committee will continue to support and advise VIU as they work towards implementation of the program. In particular, the Committee is interested in organizing secondary school visits to expose young students to tech as a career path. Also, VIU and School District 79 (SD79) are actively working on a renewed dual-credit program between SD79’s the Apple Swift Programming course and VIU’s tech diploma programs.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia.