Building a Digital Workforce: The Case for Investing in Homegrown Talent

By BrainStation July 31, 2017

Many of us have read the articles from prominent members of the Canadian tech community lauding the government for streamlining the immigration process for highly skilled workers. After all, many of those skilled workers affected by changing immigration policies will likely end up working in Canada’s fast growing tech sector. And while much of the industry’s focus has been outside our borders, we shouldn’t overlook opportunities for building a more digital workforce with good old homegrown Canadian talent. In many ways, this ‘levelling up’ of our broader workforce will be necessary in order to support our aspirations of becoming a haven for highly skilled tech workers and the companies they work for.

Unfortunately, there’s a major skills gap in the Canadian workforce. According to recent research from the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC): “In 2010, the Government of Canada found that a substantial proportion — almost 40% — of Canadian workers lack the necessary skills to support digital adoption.”  

Reversing the Brain Drain

Silicon Valley and other US cities are full of proud Canadians working for some of the largest and most influential tech companies in the world. However, the shifting sands of U.S. immigration policy are creating a number of potential scenarios where the free flow of workers and goods between the worlds largest trading partners, is much more restricted than ever before. These firms have certainly been the most vocal about the dramatically negative impacts to their businesses if the current direction of U.S. immigration policies continues. However, through crisis there is opportunity.

With investment, and well-compensated tech jobs paired with a stable economy, we could potentially reverse the brain drain that’s plagued our workforce over the last few decades.  Canada has a golden opportunity to ‘seize the day’ and begin a concerted effort to woo individuals and companies to join us in our stable and steadily growing tech sector. Our federal and provincial governments should be actively developing policies and incentives that make it attractive and easy for high tech companies to increase their investment and operations in Canada.

However, in order to support this ambitious plan, we simultaneously need to implement policies and initiatives to develop a broad and diverse workforce of technically skilled employees to work alongside (and support) the global superstars.  We must tackle the costly investment of upskilling and retraining our workforce with the skills required to participate in the digital economy.

Technical Training Benefits More Than Just The Tech Industry

Yes, filling the skills gap with investment in technical training for non-technical Canadians will surely benefit tech companies desperate for talent. But that’s not the only industry that stands to benefit from a deeper tech talent pool — more “traditional” industries are becoming increasingly digital. Every niche, from banks to builders, now needs an online presence, digital marketing in order to procure clients and customers, and programmers to support digital operating models. As the ICTC reports states: “Given that more than half of Canadian ICT workers are employed in sectors outside of ICT, the value-added by ICT workers across all sectors of the economy is expected to intensify over the next five years as businesses adopt new technologies.”

As the research shows, the need for technical professionals across all industries will only increase as the average Canadian becomes more digitally savvy and demands increasingly complex services.

Laying the Groundwork: How to Invest in Canada’s Future

So, how do we move forward from here? How can we offer the kind of technical training needed to help close the gap and give Canadians access to in-demand ICT jobs?  There are funding sources available to subsidize programs for Canadians eager to invest in making lifelong learning a priority for both individuals and businesses.  Expanding programs like the Canada-Ontario Job Grant and technology adoption subsidies would incentivize employers to upgrade their employees’ skills and adopt technology that could streamline their businesses.

The payoff for employers is obvious.  By offering access to relevant training, they get more qualified, engaged employees who can help them scale their digital businesses. After all, studies show that 58% of employees (62% of Millennials and GenX) say that professional development contributes to their job satisfaction — which helps them be more productive and stick around longer.

Making the Investment: Moving Forward

While we’re focused on recruiting talent for a brighter economic future, let’s not forget the talent right here who can help Canada become a technological world leader. With a little investment and growth, we can ensure more Canadians have the skills they need to compete for these in-demand positions.

To learn more about our commitment to investing in non-technical Canadians, visit the BrainStation website and explore the courses, bootcamps, workshops, events and Corporate Training options.