Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are being used increasingly in all areas of life to help understand and manage man-made and natural processes.
“GIS assigns information to physical features and locations with the information analysis done by computers and used to find patterns, help systems work efficiently and make predictions about trends to assist with immediate and long-term planning,” said Nolan Clark, who has been the instructor of the GIS certificate program at the Salmon Arm Campus of Okanagan College for the past six years.
With the increasing use of GIS in a variety of fields and more employment opportunities, the college is offering the five-month, full-time certificate program in Vernon for the first time starting in January. The requirements are high school graduation or equivalent, or mature student status, and basic computer skills.
“There are lots of jobs out there and students are getting jobs. People are coming from outside the area to take the course,” said Joanne Thompsen, associate director, continuing studies, Vernon campus, Okanagan College.
With GIS being used by health authorities, regional districts, wildlife managers, exploration companies and forestry and agriculture, GIS graduates have a wide choice of employment. Some take the program to add to existing qualifications to get jobs in their field of interest while others start with the certificate and then find the work they like.
Graduate Allan Jacobs presently works in Guyana for Stratagold, a Vancouver-based exploration and development company with projects around the world. Jolene Murphy works for Parks Canada and Ali Fraser is continuing her education to get a master’s degree in GIS.
“I learned so much and really enjoyed the program. They broke down all the topics and really gave us the skills we needed with the software,” she said.
Jesse Fraser had a geography degree and was looking for work when he took the GIS program. He now works at Accuas based in Victoria.
“We are an unmanned ariel surveying company. We fly drones that take pictures of the ground and I process the data,” he said.
Patty Bruce, program coordinator, Salmon Arm campus, Okanagan College said, “There are increasing employment opportunities in oil, gas, forestry and silvaculture and many other fields.”
Lisa Robert, program assistant, Okanagan College added, “For example, in 2010, there were 195 job openings in GIS in the Thompson-Okanagan and an estimated 170 qualified new job seekers, so it looks good.”
Clark is looking forward to teaching the program in Vernon.
“I love teaching this. It’s a relaxed environment but everyone is learning a lot,” he said.
Some of the many ways that GIS can be used that people might not think about are in vineyards to measure grape growth and adjust watering to temperature for maximum harvest; to monitor infrastructure and contact those affected in an emergency; help find the best pasture for cattle at any time of year; and to track shipping of all kinds.
The next GIS certificate program starts Jan. 9 at the Vernon campus. Registration is on now and space is limited.
For more information see www.okanagan.bc.ca/gis. Online application is at webapps-1.okanagan.bc.ca/ok/apply/Myapplication.aspx.