Remember that Canadian IT talent shortage that’s threatening to bring our economy to its knees and usher our technology sector into obsolescence? Well, we’re back to talk about it again, and this time it’s going to be be way less depressing. Admittedly, the state of affairs is daunting: hundreds of thousands of new tech jobs will be created in Canada over the next few years with far too few people to fill them – a shortfall too great to be addressed by importing and outsourcing talent. This means that many jobs will go unfilled, which of course means that Canada’s innovation and competitiveness in tech stands to suffer.
When you look at the demographics of the IT workforce in Canada, this problem begins to make a lot of sense. Only 24% of the workforce is female, only 4.4% is under 24 years old, and only 1.2% of the very young, rapidly growing Aboriginal community works in tech. The industry has miserably failed to attract and engage people that fall outside of a fairly narrow demographic: middle-aged dudes. Right now only 6% of Canadian students are currently pursuing degrees in technology, so the pipeline isn’t looking good. However, on the bright side, there’s so very, very much room for improvement.
Fortunately, statisticians aren’t the only ones who have been paying attention. Teachers, CEOs, developers, social innovators, cabinet ministers and others are all tackling this issue from a whole bunch of different and creative angles. There’s some exciting work happening out there – and you can be a part of it.
Here are eight concrete steps you can take to BASICALLY help SAVE THE WORLD of information technology in Canada (the italicized bits don’t make it any less noble):
1. Talk to a teacher.
Last year, the Ministry of Education in BC incorporated technology into its curriculum for the first time. Teachers across the province are in uncharted territory with these new requirements, so it’s the perfect time for you to employ your tech know-how for good. Last year, Groundswell reached out to Admiral Seymour Elementary, a Downtown Eastside school not far from our headquarters, and they gladly welcomed our staff come help teach coding in a Grade 1 Classroom. We’re presently coordinating with a teacher to help her learn a robotics program to teach her students. Odds are good that you have more to offer than you think you do.
2. Write / Text / Tweet your MP.
Tell her or him that you think coding belongs in your province’s curriculum. Other countries are way ahead of us, here. The United Kingdom incorporated computer science into all education programs for children ages five and up a few years back. Now more than 85 per cent of teachers report that students are showing more interest coding and computer science. The Canadian government is starting to throw money at this problem, and a few provinces are beginning to make changes, but there is at present no widespread systemic initiative that comes anywhere close to what the UK and many other forward-thinking countries are doing on this front. Find your MP here.
3. Get involved with a nonprofit or professional organization that supports Women in IT.
Here are just a few:
- Women Who Code
- Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology
- Ladies Learning Code
- Canada Learning Code
- Canadian Women in Tech (CanWIT)
- Women in Communications and Technology
Too many to choose from? Start here: Ladies Learning Code sponsors technology workshops for kids (both boys and girls), and they’re looking for mentors.
4. Make your recruiting process more inclusive.
Most of the professional organizations listed above have job boards. Are you posting on them? What kind of job fairs are you attending? Who is representing you there? Do you offer internships? To whom? Are you actively searching for people from underrepresented groups or are you waiting for them to come to you?
5. Get involved with PLATO.
Staffed by Aboriginal people from across Canada, PLATO provides website, mobile, and enterprise software testing services. Your company thinking about offshoring some QA work? Tell your boss to hire these guys instead. (And, for once, I don’t literally mean “guys” – more than half of the staff here are women.) You can also help fund their intense, 6-month training program and bring them closer to their aggressive goal of training 1,000 Aboriginal testers by 2020 – and you can provide internship opportunities to program graduates.
6. Host a field trip.
Get in touch with a school and invite a class over. Give students a chance to sit in your boardroom, tackle some variation of the problems you solve, and begin to dream about a career they may never have even known about before. Bonus points if the school primarily serves kids whose parents don’t have white collar jobs.
7. Don’t be a jerk.
This seems like a no-brainer, but seriously, don’t be the reason women/people of colour/people with disabilities don’t feel comfortable in your workplace. Culture ultimately boils down to the actions of individuals. Do your part. Know your biases and work to correct them. Don’t say douchey things. Make a habit of learning from people who don’t fit your demographic profile. It’ll help your career and probably your love life.
8. Be creative.
We’re in the business of creating elegant solutions to complex problems. Heck, we create solutions to problems people don’t even know they have. Let’s turn some of that brilliance in this direction and see what happens. What have you got?