Canada’s digital talent needs to be a significant priority in the coming years, according to the Information and Communications Technology Council’s recent report.
© Craig Lord
Namir Anani, president and CEO of Information and Communications Technology Council
by Craig Lord
The ICTC unveiled its digital talent strategy, Digital Talent: Road to 2020 and Beyond, at an event Wednesday morning at the Museum of Nature. Industry leaders, academics and government officials attended the presentation that outlined the concrete steps recommended to fill Canada’s digital gaps.
“This initiative is urgent. The digital economy is the economy,” said Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
According to the report, the information and communications technology industry contributes $74 billion annually to Canada’s GDP. Job growth in ICT also outpaces job growth in the rest of the economy by a ratio of four to one. Namir Anani, president and CEO of ICTC, said in his presentation that the importance of the field is still growing.
“We’ve seen a new wave of digital transformation that will have a profound impact on our economy and in the labour market in the next few years.”
The digital strategy echoes this point. The ICTC estimates that by 2019, there will be demand for 182,000 ICT jobs in Canada. Mr. Anani said now is the time to focus on meeting that demand.
“Our most important advantage for 2020 and beyond is going to be digital talent,” he said.
The report outlines seven key initiatives to ensure Canada is ready to meet the demand for digital talent, which fall broadly into two categories: promoting talent in our workforce and altering any societal stigma against ICT.
Microsoft Canada was one of the major sponsors of the report. President and CEO Janet Kennedy spoke to OBJ following the event about encouraging ICT adoption to the small and medium enterprises that make up over 90 per cent of Canadian companies.
“Right now, our productivity lags behind the U.S. and other developed countries,” Ms. Kennedy said. “There does seem to be a fear of some of the new technologies.”
Changing the technology culture is also crucial for youth and for women. Ms. Kennedy and other speakers championed the need to get computer science into schools earlier, and changing the brand of ICT so that the field doesn’t alienate young girls.
Incorporating women and underrepresented minorities into ICT is an untapped market, Mr. Anani told OBJ after the event.
“Many countries have figured out it’s not only a gender issue, it’s an economic prosperity issue. Having more women in the field will result in new innovations in a new market,” he said.
Ms. Kennedy said there needs to be an effort to make sure women’s ideas are heard.
“I think we need to help women be more bold, take a seat at the table,” she said.
As for higher education, University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur said during a panel discussion that there’s a need to align schooling with industry need to provide a more practical education for students. He spoke of the 19,000 co-op placements that students at Waterloo received last year as an example of successful practices.
“If one university is doing excellent in terms of the alignment between education and industry… how can we take that information and scale it up to the rest of the country?” asked Mr. Anani.
While many aspects of the report called for support in the forms of subsidies and programs from government, the next step for the digital strategy is about targeting key ICT players for action.
Three task forces revolving around diversity, industry and education will be assembled to discuss the issues and ideas raised by this report. Industry leaders and academics will share best practices to bridge the gaps in Canada’s digital talent pool.
Despite the need for improvement, Ms. Kennedy said there’s a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to Canada’s ICT industry. She referenced the burgeoning gaming industry in Vancouver and the work being done at universities in Ottawa and Waterloo as models of success.
“I think there’s something magical happening in the country,” she said.