Digital “Apprenticeships” Could Solve Canada’s Tech Talent Shortage

When business leaders in Canada were asked to name threats to business growth in a KPMG 2021 outlook survey, digital skills were identified as the top concern.

Across all sectors and sizes, Canadian businesses are unable to recruit and retain digital technology specialists who can help them keep pace with new and emerging IT solutions.

For Canada to become a global leader in the digital economy, we must address our tech talent shortage. Innovative post-secondary education programs, based on proven international models, can help achieve this.

Canadian companies compete for the same small pool of information and communication technology (ICT) specialists, such as software developers, cybersecurity analysts and data scientists, to develop, improve and protect their products and services.

If Canada does not act quickly to address these serious skills gaps in the ICT sector, exacerbated by the pandemic, we risk falling further behind.

Yet, as businesses struggle to hire and retain highly skilled ICT specialists, an estimated 1.7 million Canadians are excluded from the digital economy.

According to Deloitte, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), immigrants, people with disabilities and seniors face systemic barriers to IT careers. They are potential untapped tech talent that could help boost economic growth by 50% and could bring their diverse backgrounds and perspectives to solving complex problems.

To grow Canada’s tech workforce, we need to create and facilitate more affordable and inclusive educational pathways to careers in digital technologies.

Integrated programs bring together post-secondary institutions and industry to provide an opportunity for untapped talent. An integrated program is a unique and flexible alternative to traditional university studies. Learners work full time with an employer for four years, receiving a salary, while devoting 20 percent of their contractual working hours to studying for a university degree.

As learners simultaneously work on the job and learn in class and online, it opens doors for those who would otherwise have neither the time nor the money to pursue an education.

For employers, it is an opportunity to develop an existing workforce and attract new, high-quality talent whose ideas, knowledge and skills can add value to an organization right from the start. first day.

Because work and learning take place in a seamless environment, businesses can benefit from a learner’s access to the latest expertise, knowledge, and resources provided by a university.

At the same time, as the program is co-designed and developed by many companies and industry associations alongside a university, the curriculum and learning outcomes anticipate industry needs and shape their evolution.

At the heart of an integrated program is a close and symbiotic relationship between industry and academia, reimagining the future of learning and employment.

The integrated programs are based on a very successful work-integrated learning model established in the UK, called degree learning. Since 2015, when the first degree learning programs were rolled out with 756 learners across the UK, they have grown to over 22,500 learners.

Today, more than 100 universities in England offer degree apprenticeships, with digital technology solutions among the best programs.

Manchester Metropolitan University, a leading UK provider of degree apprenticeships, reported that 100% of its employer partners found that apprentices helped grow talent. Learners performed so well during their program that 78% received a pay raise and 64% received a promotion.

For their digital technologies program, the average student salary one year after graduation was 46% higher than the average UK IT graduate and 5% higher than graduates of the top five IT courses British (including Oxford and Cambridge).

Now it’s coming to Canada.

I led the design and implementation of New Zealand’s first degree apprenticeship pilot program based on this proven UK model – and I’m excited to make it a reality in Canada too.

At York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, we’ve brought together technology experts from various ICT sectors and co-designed a program that can create the next generation of software developers, cybersecurity specialists and data scientists. data.

Starting in the fall of 2023, the digital technologies program will be an extraordinary first for Canada to build its technology sector.

Enrolled students will work while simultaneously earning a Bachelor of Applied Science degree. As a scalable model, this first integrated program has the potential to address the national tech skills shortage and regain the foothold we have lost in the global digital economy.

Preparing these graduates will enable Canada to innovate and disrupt, filling domestic vacancies while attracting global investment.

Jane Goodyer is Dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University.

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