Opening new paths to careers in technology for indigenous learners

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The Salesforce 2022 Digital Skills Index found that about 81% of Canadians and 71% of Americans do not feel ready to grasp and master the digital skills currently required by businesses in various sectors, and 86 and 74% do not feel ready to meet the requirements of the future.

During the pandemic, the demand for people with skills and knowledge grew even faster to meet the needs of digitally transformed industries and sectors. According to the Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC), the demand for digital talent talent in Canada is expected to reach 305,000 by 2023, bringing the total to more than 2 million people in the digital economy. In the United States, that number is rising to millions in the most conservative forecasts, while many participants in the technology ecosystem are trying to address the problem by providing online training to the general public. Digital and technology careers offer some of the greatest job opportunities in today’s North American workforce.

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At the same time, unemployment rates in Canada, for example, are 1.5 times higher among the indigenous population. Based on estimates from 2019, approximately 5.1% of the Canadian workforce is currently working in technology, and if this percentage is applied to the employed indigenous population, this should mean that approximately 29,682 indigenous peoples, mestizos and the Inuit work in technology.

Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Indigenous people, one of the fastest growing populations in Canada, make up only 1.2% of those working in the field of information and communication technology. They are also underrepresented in STEM areas at higher level academic institutions.

According to a report by the Ryerson University Diversity Institute in collaboration with the Canadian Aboriginal Council (CCAB), 33.8% of Indigenous workers are in industries that are at high risk of job loss due to automation, a trend which accelerated during the pandemic. This represents 250,000 jobs occupied by indigenous peoples.

In its report, the CCAB makes recommendations to address this issue, for example by investing in greater opportunities for indigenous peoples to reach higher levels of education. Current barriers to this include forced relocation, lack of guidance and culturally appropriate proposals, the cost of education and intergenerational trauma. Although tackling these problems in traditional post-secondary education is crucial, emphasis should also be placed on alternative options that can help solve the problem more quickly.

Related: Research: Technology companies need to test their blind spots in diversity

Ways to help

Shortages in employment in the technology industry offer a window of opportunity to hire more locals, and microcredit can help make that happen. Microcredit certificates are certificates for assessed learning related to a specific skill or competence. They allow for advanced training in a flexible, fast and accessible way and help businesses to understand more directly what specific skills the job applicant has.

One of the current barriers to this is that many microcredits are still affordable, as providers include large corporations, colleges, universities and other professional organizations, although there is often a possibility for tax credits to cover part of the fees. However, the bureaucratic or corporate nature of many of these opportunities leads to barriers to access, prompting the immediate need for charities working with local and underserved communities to offer this type of programming in a more accessible way.

That’s why I started the ComIT charity back in 2016. We recently launched a program called Recoding Futures with the support of Google to provide free, scholarship-based digital skills training to thousands of Indigenous students in Canada. We tailor our quarterly part-time courses based on the technological needs and requirements of local employers to ensure that graduates develop skills that will prepare them for success.

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

This is not a comprehensive solution, as there are still countless other barriers, including unreliable internet access, especially in remote communities and in reserve, along with dangerous living conditions. Micro-identification data will not solve these complex problems, which require the cooperation of local communities and management, all levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations and others to solve, but offer access to transferable education and skills and affordable.

All the while, this can help tackle digital skills gaps that are a barrier to growth and innovation. It is vital to teach skills and experience that are applicable to emerging economies, helping people to develop the tools to adapt and succeed in an increasingly digital world.

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

For this to be successful, learning must be culturally appropriate, transferable to the community and the wider labor market, and offer students the ability to connect with local role models. To play a role in this, employers must be open to accepting applicants with microcredit instead of or in addition to traditional education. More and more employers in North America are seeing the value of microcredit and removing traditional post-secondary secondary education requirements, a trend that is likely to increase over the next decade.

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