Canada’s Digital Economy Needs Highly Skilled and Diverse Workforce to Succeed

By: Lee Rickwood

April 19, 2023

“Canada is going to lead the world in tech.”

That’s the bold and enthusiastic prediction stemming from opportunities in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, data analytics, and software development. Specific applications like quantum computing, 3-D print manufacturing and virtual reality are also key.

But the country’s information and communications technology industry as a whole needs more trained and capable workers to succeed. In fact, the Information and Communications Technology Council says Canada will need another 250,000 people in the digital economy over the next few years if it is to keep up is strong contributions to the overall economy: the ICT sector was responsible for 15.3% of the nation’s GDP growth between 2016 and 2021!

So significant investments in training and development, like the recent announcement that two leading tech firms in Atlantic Canada will receive a nearly $50 million investment from the Government of Canada to train workers for the digital ICT sector, help bring out that predictive enthusiasm.

Companies like techNL and Lighthouse Labs are the reasons why Canada will lead the way, said federal Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan Jr. as he announced the funding and described the contributions those companies and other entities will have. “They’re going to train the workforce we need to take the digital ICT sector to new heights. We’re just giving them the tools to get the job done.”

Additional funding will help establish and outfit a regional Innovation Centre, where virtual simulators and 3-D metal printers will be among the advanced technologies in operation.

students in classroom seen through glass windows

Lighthouse Labs is a Canadian tech education firm with locations across Canada. Lighthouse Labs image.

Launched some ten years ago, Lighthouse Labs is a Canadian tech education firm with locations across Canada. techNL, a not-for-profit industry association, has represented that province’s technology sector for over 30 years.

Lighthouse Labs will receive just over $21.2 million for what’s called the ICT Boost, a project to empower 1,700 people across the country with digital and soft skills training so they can enter the ICT sector or upgrade their current skills to keep up with an ever-changing field.

Lighthouse Labs offers online and in-person courses like Cyber Security, Web Development, Data Science, Intro to Data Analytics and more. The web program covers JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, Node.JS, software architecture, and responsive design, as well as computer science and software engineering concepts. The data science bootcamp teaches Python, SQL, machine learning, and deep learning.

The training, mentorships, and career services offered through ICT Boost will help those who have faced barriers to entering the workforce find and secure good jobs in the growing technology sector.

Lighthouse Labs will collaborate with more than three dozen organizations and higher education partners across Canada to deliver training and secure industry opportunities in web development, data science, and cybersecurity. ICT Boost will also provide support for participants after the program, including a mentor support system, tech stipends and career services.

Program participants include McMaster University, Alberta University of Arts, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Mohawk College, University of Guelph, NorQuest College, Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology and the University of Victoria. These partners were brought on-board in part based on their track records of building trusted and direct relationships with people from minority groups.

Students at desks with computers in ICT training environment

Industry training and skills development from companies like techNL and Lighthouse Labs are reasons why Canada will lead the way in the tech sector. Lighthouse Labs image.

“It should take no one by surprise that there are barriers to entry into tech which have created an ecosystem that is not reflective of the population of Canada,” Lighthouse Labs CEO Jeremy Shaki said of the plan. “At Lighthouse Labs, we want to ensure that everyone is well represented in designing and strengthening solutions for our increasingly changing future. With the support of the Government of Canada, ICT Boost will work alongside our partners to provide skills training to enter the workforce and empower students to take advantage of this booming industry.”

Also announced is an investment in techNL, up to $27.1 million, to create a technology-focused training and upskilling ecosystem to support a targeted group of some 2,100 Canadians, especially those from equity deserving groups. Flexible learning environments and supportive partnerships between educational providers and industry are available to members of equity deserving groups to ensure their success and to facilitate employment and retention.

Called Strengthening the NL Workforce: A Technology Training and Upskilling Ecosystem, like Lighthouse Labs’ ICT Boost, techNL’s project also involves numerous education and industry partners, including Keyin College, Memorial University, ACENET, Ethree Consulting, Get-Coding, The Leap Method, Women in Resource Development Corporation, CoLab, Genoa Design, and SEM Ltd.

techNL’s initiative, also called FindYourFuture, intends to support diversity and inclusion training for employers, as well as onboarding and retention supports for workers, through partnerships with specialized technology partners and providers in the ICT sector. “People from all backgrounds will access training and upskilling through the Find Your Future in Tech program,” described Florian Villaumé, CEO of techNL. “The importance of technology cannot be understated. Every industry and sector in this province are influenced by it and we are very excited to continue to build on this province’s already impressive tech sector.”

people in meeting space in proposed Innovation Centre

ICT training and development will be delivered at soon-to-be-established regional Innovation Centres. techNL image.

Industry partners have been an important part of sectoral training delivery through both academic course development and real-world hands-on work opportunities, so funding for training and development includes monies to help establish and outfit a regional Innovation Centre.

Although not yet finalized in its design, plans call for more than 45,000 square feet of space for training, meetings, operations and other programming. Even prior to completion, companies and techNL members like Virtual Marine, which develops maritime safety training simulators, and Atlantic XL, a technology and engineering group, are already involved.

high tech 3-D metal printer

Tech companies like Atlantic XL are eager to get involved in industry training and development; it has one of the region’s first commercial 3-D metal printers. SLM image.

Virtual Marine is building simulators for commercial clients at the Centre, and Atlantic XL recently announced the purchase and first availability of a commercial metal 3-D printer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As techNL CEO Villaumé intimated, the fact companies are conducting business at the Centre even before it’s completed shows not just a need for, but leadership in, regional technology training and national industry development.

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