Opening new career paths in technology for indigenous students

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The Salesforce 2022 Digital Skills Index revealed that approximately 81% of Canadians and 71% of Americans feel unable to grasp and master the digital skills currently required by companies across all industries, and 86 to 74% they do not feel prepared to meet the demands of the future.

During the pandemic, demand grew even faster for individuals with the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of digitally transformed industries and sectors. According to the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), Canadian demand for digitally skilled talent is expected to reach 305,000 by 2023, totaling more than 2 million employees in the digital economy. In the United States, that number rises to the millions in the most conservative forecasts, as many players in the tech ecosystem try to address the problem by providing online training to the mass population. Digital and technology careers offer some of the greatest job opportunities in the modern North American workforce.

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At the same time, Canadian unemployment rates, for example, are 1.5 times higher among indigenous peoples. Based on 2019 projections, approximately 5.1% of the Canadian workforce currently works in the technology sector and, if that percentage is applied to the employed indigenous population, it should mean that approximately 29,682 First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit people work in the technology sector. .

Unfortunately, this is far from true. Indigenous youth, one of Canada’s fastest growing populations, make up just 1.2% of information and communications technology workers. They are also largely underrepresented in STEM fields in higher-level academic institutions.

According to a report by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, conducted in concert with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), 33.8% of indigenous workers are in industries at high risk of losing jobs due to automation, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. This constitutes 250,000 jobs held by indigenous peoples.

In their report, the CCAB makes recommendations on how to address this problem, for example by investing in more opportunities for indigenous peoples to achieve higher levels of education. Current barriers to this include forced relocation, lack of culturally appropriate guidance and offers, the cost of education, and intergenerational trauma. While it is crucial to address these problems in traditional post-secondary education, there is also an emphasis on alternative options that can help address the problem more quickly.

Related: Study: Tech Companies Must Check Their Blind Spots on Diversity

Ways to help

Employment deficits in the tech sector offer a window of opportunity to get more indigenous people employed, and micro-credentials can help make that happen. Micro-credentials are assessed learning certifications associated with a specific skill or competence. They enable skills improvement in a flexible, fast and cost-effective way and help companies understand more directly what specific skills a candidate possesses.

One of the current obstacles is that many micro-credits still come at a cost as suppliers include large corporations, colleges, universities and other professional organizations, although there is often an opportunity for tax credits to cover some of the taxes. However, the bureaucratic or corporate nature of many of these opportunities leads to barriers to entry, bringing home the immediate need for charities working with indigenous and disadvantaged communities to also offer this type of programming in a more accessible way. .

This is why I started the charity ComIT in 2016. We recently launched a program called Recoding Futures with the support of Google to provide free, scholarship-based training in digital skills to thousands of indigenous students across the country. Canada. We tailor our three-month part-time courses based on the technology needs and demands of local employers to ensure graduates develop skills that prepare them for success.

Along with technology-based learning, we focus on critical job skills such as resume building and interview training, along with career growth and mentoring opportunities that turn graduates into quality candidates for required technology jobs. An important aspect of this is that programs are offered remotely, allowing greater access for people living in remote communities, where otherwise quality education may not be available.

This is not a general solution as there are still a host of other barriers, including unreliable internet access, especially in remote and reserve communities, along with unsafe living conditions. Micro-credentials will not solve these complex problems, which require the collaboration of indigenous communities and leadership, all levels of government, the private sector, nonprofits and others, but it does provide an opportunity to make education and education accessible. the skills transferable and affordable.

In the meantime, this could help fill digital skills gaps that are a barrier to growth and innovation. It is vital to teach skills and experiences applicable to rapidly changing economies, helping people develop the tools to adapt and succeed in an increasingly digitalized world.

According to a report by the Public Policy Forum and the Diversity Institute, 350,000 indigenous young people in Canada will be of working age by 2026, and if adequate investments are made to ensure that this population receives adequate opportunities and support, they can increase the local economy by $ 27.7 billion a year. This would help the ability to promote homegrown talent.

For this to be successful, the training must be culturally relevant, transferable to the community and the labor market at large, and offer students the ability to connect with indigenous role models. To play a role in this, employers must be open to receiving candidates with micro-credentials rather than or as a supplement to traditional education. More and more employers in North America are seeing the value of micro-credentials and eliminating traditional post-secondary education requirements on applications, a trend that is set to grow over the next decade.

Related: The Next Hot Ticket in Ed Tech? Micro-credentials

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