Local universities adjust to RIM struggles

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After numerous job cuts, a delayed product launch for their BlackBerry 10 platform and a slew of upset investors, Research in Motion (RIM) hasn’t been receiving the kindest of attention as of late.

With a total of 5,000 potential laid off workers at the Waterloo and other RIM offices, the company’s struggles and its impacts on the community are undeniable.
“Obviously, no company wants to be in this kind of position where they were dominate once, lost the script and were then caught and surpassed by the competition,” explained Carmi Levy, a data and technology analyst and journalist. “Any round of layoffs is a bad news story, it’s hard to put a positive spin on it. If you were once working for the once top mobile technology company on the planet and if you now find yourself looking for work.”

Earlier this month, the Ontario government, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo have agreed to offer support to the laid-off RIM workers from the region, specifically in terms of course offerings.

“We are anxious to provide any support we can in terms of kind of rebuilding careers for the people who had lots jobs because of the layoffs at RIM” said Kim Morouney, the associate dean of business at Laurier. “Everyone at the school, we’re concerned, in a way kind of heartbroken because RIM has been such a big part of this community.”

Morouney added that RIM has been a big supporter of the university with co-op placements and a new masters program named the executive masters in management of technology. While UW and WLU plan on offering support for laid off workers, Morouney is unsure of where the funding is going to come from.

“Right now, we’re just providing information about the courses and the programs that we have and we’re always open to the idea of creating new courses and programs to fit the business community,” she continued. “As far as funding goes, I’m not aware of any arrangements that have been completed.”

As for impacts on the co-op programs and Laurier students who hope to work at RIM after their undergrad, Morouney noted that it’s too early to tell.

“I’m not sure we know yet if there will be a negative impact. We may find [RIM] relies as heavily as ever on co-op employees,” she said. “I think it’s too soon to tell.”

Morouney noted that RIM might find co-op options more favourable because of the cheaper price tag for co-op students compared to graduates. University of Waterloo officials refused to comment on potential impacts this may have on co-op out of confidentiality reasons. However, for those who don’t want to go back to school — which is fairly common for laid-off workers according to Levy — Ian McLean, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, believes there’s enough business in Waterloo Region to “soak up” the laid-off employees.

“There’s lots of jobs open in the tech sector so I think a lot of those folks are finding work with some of the tech companies who have been searching for those high-tech knowledge workers,” he explained.

Levy echoed McLean’s remarks.

“As bad as it is, with the 5,000 or so RIM employees that are shown the door, K-W is probably the best place on earth for them with something like this to happen because the environment is so rich in other opportunities,” Levy said. “The Kitchener-Waterloo region is a very unique part of the country, and the eco-system there is very  different that anywhere else.”

However, some have noted that BB 10, the newest platform and smartphones from RIM to released early 2013, could be the saving grace for the company — but it’s not just glamourous technology that will do the trick.

“This is a market where the best technology doesn’t always necessarily win,” Levy asserted, adding that branding and marketing has just as much to play in selling a new product. “It’s probably the most important product launch in the company’s history.”

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