Despite a global economic recession ravaging the world's major economies, Canada's telecom sector is finding itself hard pressed to find enough graduates to fill available positions.
"Yes there is a shortage," says Bob Gill, program head of the telecommunications and network technology diploma program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). "Employers are directly contacting (schools)."
Gill says BC Hydro, Bell Canada, Industry Canada and Nav Canada have all been in touch, while a Sierra Wireless vice-president has plans to visit BCIT for a presentation, a first-ever occurrence.
The demand for telecommunications graduates is also surging in Alberta. Thirty-eight students will graduate this month from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
And just one company, Vancouver-based Ledcor Group of Companies, says it can hire all of them for positions in Alberta and B.C.
Ledcor was one of eight companies that visited NAIT in mid-March on a recruiting drive.
"It's been like this pretty much for the last three, four years and there are just more jobs than there are students," says Lawrence Rodnunsky, program chair of NAIT's telecommunications engineering technology program.
The picture is just as positive on other Canadian campuses.
"The whole area of wireless telecommunications seems to be strong here," says David Alcock, associate dean of the school of applied technology at Toronto's Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
"We don't seem to have a great deal of difficulty placing our grads coming out of the wireless and telecommunications programs."
"I don't want to say that there's an insatiable demand, but there seems to be ample opportunities for graduates coming out of our program."
Humber has two intakes of 60 students for its wireless and telecommunications graduate program and another 60 for its electronics program, which includes elements of telecommunications.
BCIT graduated seven in January and expects 12 to finish in the current term - but there are already 26 job offers for those 12 students.
NAIT, meanwhile, is accepting just 32 students for the next semester, down from a high of 96 before the dot-com bubble burst.
"We're fighting the media," says Rodnunsky, referring to low enrolment numbers for telecom programs.
"I think it's largely media (the image of an industry in decline) and the fact that people see the telecommunications industry as not necessarily a viable area to get into.
"This all stems from the dot-com bust. People don't know that there are jobs out there."
And those jobs are unlikely to disappear in the immediate future.
"It's the pace of wireless technology and how quickly it evolves, that's why you're seeing such a demand," says Marc Choma, director of communications for the Ottawa-based Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) .
"Wireless is seen as a growing business and it's a staple now of the 21st- century infrastructure."
The CWTA represents cellular, PCS, messaging, mobile radio, fixed wireless and mobile satellite carriers across Canada, as well as companies that develop and produce products and services for the industry.
Choma says Canadians are thirsty for wireless technology, which in turn creates a need for workers to develop, deliver and maintain those products and services.
"We're seeing no slowdown in the demand for wireless products and services, and the demand for workers is going to keep pace with the demand for the technology itself," adds Choma.
"Anecdotally, when I am speaking with our members, they are constantly looking for new talent.
"If you go to websites for Canadian wireless carriers, there are jobs there. Even in an economic downturn there are going to be opportunities.
"You are seeing new growth because the technology is constantly evolving and it's not just evolving, it's evolving at lightning speed in the wireless industry."
But it's not just the demand for wireless driving the change.
"It's not just the telecommunications companies that are looking for people," adds Rodnunsky.
"It's the Syncrudes, the Suncors, police services, the hospitals; they all have their own telecommunications departments."
Ledcor is one example. Most people wouldn't expect a construction company to be on the hunt for telecommunications students.
But Ledcor recruiter Barb Bunting is scouring Alberta and B.C. for telecommunications graduates.
Ledcor's involvement in the telecom industry began in the 1980s, developing the expertise needed for cable installation and an understanding of the fibre-optics world.
It launched Ledcor's LTS division in 2003 to enter the fibre-optic customer service business.
"We are seeing growth all across the country," says Bunting. "Our current customers and contracts have been driving the West a little stronger and a little more aggressively, so that is the main reason we have more hiring needs in B.C. and Alberta.
"The need for new people has increased every year - the need is there and technology is always changing."
(Laura Severs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)