A new high-tech information technology project aims to reduce the digital and economic divide that Indigenous women in Canada continue to face.
The University College of the North (UCN) will launch what’s called the first‐of‐its‐kind IT training program for women in Northern Manitoba later this year.
Beginning in September, the Information Technology Readiness North (InTeRN) program is a research‐based pilot project that will work to address gaps and barriers preventing women from finding IT jobs.
Serving Northern Manitoba, with main campus locations at La Pas and Thompson, UCN’s new two-year network computer technology program will start by building entry level skills, but the training is coupled with social supports for students and work-training integration with industry partners.
The aim is to overcome the numerous barriers that block northern individuals participating in the ICT industries of Manitoba (especially as the industry expands and seeks new participants) as a way to address the issue, common in many northern communities, of “jobs without people and people without jobs”.
Underpinning UCN’s IT plans is a sophisticated network administration, server and storage platform from Hewlett Packard Enterprise; HPE’s Nimble Storage dHCI technology (dHCI stands for disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure) combines scalable storage, computing and virtualization capabilities in the same chassis and software stack.
“Life in the north is very different compared to other regions, and because of those differences, our IT program is imagining a structure unlike any other,” said William McBride, UCN project consultant and IT educator. “Thanks to HPE Nimble Storage dHCI, myself and other educators working on this program will also have the confidence of a system supporting our workloads with built-in data protection.”
UCN says it selected the HP tech architecture for the flexibility and ease of use; it will support both specific IT training needs as well as hands-on student use in a lab environment. Empowering women to pursue careers in IT has been a key initiative at UCN, and the InTeRN Project will provide entry-level IT certification without students having to leave their communities and existing social support structures.
But not only is UCN’s approach to IT training unique for its technical foundation, the training there combines soft skills (like critical thinking, problem solving, public speaking, team-working) digital skills (professional writing, social media, safety, security and legality online) and oral storytelling (not only spoken word, but chants, songs, poems and physical gestures) into a personal and professional growth strategy.
“It is our intention that every student entering our program feels fully supported to work through the curriculum with confidence,” said Jenna Brown, the InTeRN Project case manager at UCN. “This program will unleash the strength, resourcefulness and resilience found here in the north, where community is everything. This is why we’re creating a learning community that supports, uplifts and encourages our students to be their best.”
In addition to HPE, other industry players are helping move the project forward, including the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre, a local Computers for Schools equipment depot where employment opportunities are offered to students, and local Adult Learning Centres.
“UCN recognized the lack of opportunities for local women to access IT training, so the IT course will begin with a women-only pilot project, with the intent of opening training to all students in the future,” described Tara Manych, education director at the Kelsey Adult Learning Centre. “The traditions of oral storytelling is a personal growth model for aboriginal women as they relate to the development of soft skills essential to the digital workplace, changing the economy, and sustainability of the under-developed, female-led technology industry in Northern Manitoba.”
UCN serves a student body of over 2,000, 70 percent of whom are Indigenous, in classrooms that span two main campuses and 12 regional training centres – nine of them being in First Nation communities. Curriculum includes standard university courses, on-site trade programs and online courses.
As the only university serving the immediate area, UCN needed a scalable tech solution that is simple to install and maintain, with no downtime. The HPE Nimble Storage dHCI is powered by artificial intelligence, called HPE InfoSight, and that means new apps can be quickly deployed, expanding workloads supported as needed, all with optimized up- time and access to all available resources.
Network automation capabilities in the system deliver cloud-like scaling and expansion when more resources are needed, so computing and storage resources can be increased independently and without system disruption.
“HPE is committed to being a force for good, and knowing our technology is delivering critical career training to under-represented populations to improve the way they work and live is an outcome that drives us as a company to continue to effect change,” said Omer Asad, VP & GM Primary Storage, HCI & Data Management Services, HPE. “HPE Nimble Storage dHCI was designed with customers like UCN in mind, built from the ground up to remove the guesswork in managing infrastructure and deliver the best performance so our customers can focus on giving back to their end users.”
In some ways, the giving back, the effected change, the critical delivery Asad speaks of will come into clear focus later this month, with word that the upcoming 2021 UCN Convocation Ceremony will be a high-tech virtual ceremony. The joyful proceedings – on Saturday, July 24 starting at 1 pm – will be on YouTube, and the ceremony will be available for viewing for up to one year, thanks to UCN’s digital serving and IT storage capabilities.
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