Will There Be A Canadian Geospatial Student Union?
That’s one of the questions we asked on our GoGeomatics Back to School Social Survey, conducted in September 2014 in cities across Canada. Two hundred participants responded, from the following cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara, and Halifax. Click here to look at the full survey.
I added this question to the survey because since the time I was a student, and then later a young graduate of the COGS program trying to find work, I noticed a gap in the Canadian geospatial community. Then as now, there is no credible group that represents the interests of students and young professionals within our sector. Sure, there are many groups and associations that will argue that they do represent students, but if you take a look at their boards, you’ll see the majority are run by older members, maybe with a token student or two usually at the post-graduate level.
Personally, I’ve always thought there is room in the sector for a group run by students and young professionals. This would give them a much-needed voice in the sector and a way to organize collectively to tackle issues pertaining to them. But before I floated the idea, I first had to figure out if there would be support in the community, starting with the survey. The response, overwhelmingly, was “yes.”
83% of those surveyed responded that YES, they would be willing to support a national Canadian geospatial student union.
Our Back to School Social was geared toward students, and so many people from the sample that we polled could be directly influenced by a new Geomatics Student Union. Nearly half of our respondents (49%) were students, and 55% were young people between the ages of 22-30.
This, of course, is just the very first step in the process of embarking on any new organization. But at this point, we wanted to gauge interest and public opinion on an idea that could have significant impact on future generations of Canadian geospatial students and our sector as a whole. What we find most interesting from these results is that not only is there support for a student union, but that there is a willingness to pay for membership! As well, through discussions with key members of industry and government, I have found that there is a willingness on their side to support such a group.
The jobs and career development component of any such organization will be key. Although the national unemployment numbers have been seeing improvement (Statistics Canada puts current numbers at 6.6%), youth unemployment has remained consistently, abysmally behind. As of October 2014, youth unemployment clocked in at 13.5%. We know anecdotally that in our industry, GIS graduates are having a very difficult time finding meaningful work, especially in Ontario. The industry hasn’t been able to keep up with the huge numbers of graduates from the dozens of post-diploma GIS programs in Canada.
What could a Canadian Geospatial student union do for its members and the wider geospatial community?
- Represent the interests of students and young professionals in the sector
- Act as an advisory board to members regarding employment and career opportunities
- Act as a central hub for co-ops and internships by bringing industry and students together
- Offer courses and further training opportunities to members out of school
- Analyze and report on trends within the sector, like human resources, to the boarder community
- Organize conferences and activities for members
- Help young professionals become entrepreneurial and move into business
- Provide pooled insurance coverage, both business and personal
- Advise the broader community on the needs and wants of their members in terms of education and accreditation
- Provide leadership opportunities to members within the union at the local, regional, national and international levels
I know that many associations will be alarmed by my proposal. They will worry that a new organization will siphon their already dwindling student and young professional membership from them. I would argue that their alarm is justified. They need to offer benefits to their members so that they join, stay, and grow.
For too long, Canadian associations have purported to offer benefits to students and young professionals. In fact, most of our associations are simply conference organizing committees, putting the majority of their efforts in both time and human resources into one conference per year. The benefit of joining these organizations now seems to be getting a small discount on attending the conference. If you took away the conference, for the most part, you would find a very hollow organization.
The Canadian Geomatics sector needs the vigor of new leadership and fresh young ideas to revitalize it. If associations and organizations won’t support our students by making them a priority and giving them a voice in our sector, then students can at least support one another together in the form of a union.
GoGeomatics can’t do this alone, and perhaps not even at all. An organization like this will need the support of students and young professionals. For that reason, we are putting a call out for volunteers in the community who would like to form a steering committee to explore creating a student union. Please send me an email if you would like to be part of this first step. You can be a student, young professional, teacher, entrepreneur, business leader, or sector leader. I want to put together a balanced group to start, not just all students. A group like this will need senior advisers from the broader sector; however, decisions and management would come from students and young professionals.