How to build a diverse talent ecosystem for Canada

The race for tech talent is on, and it’s global.

The race for tech talent is on, and it’s global. The intensification of the demographic development and international mobility due to virtual work are fueling an already intensely competitive battle to attract qualified technicians. Canada appears to be well positioned when it comes to attracting talent, particularly in technology and innovation. After all, Canada has one of the most skilled and educated workforces in the world.

Too often industry and politics tend to see growth and competitiveness as opposed to equity and diversity.

But while Canada excels in terms of educated talent, companies here still struggle to recruit skilled workers. Many in the technology space – including Palette Skills – believe that a skilled workforce alone is not enough to solve the talent shortage in Canada’s innovation landscape. Despite recent layoffs in the industry, Canada’s tech and IT firms continue to drive job growth in the country, adding over 100,000 jobs in December, and showing that skilled workers – from developers to customer service representatives – are in high demand.

So the real question is how to make better use of the country’s existing talent and how to connect it to the demands of the future economy. And to do that, we need to make sure we help individuals – and especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups – to reach their highest potential. When we do this right, we also help Canada’s fastest growing companies access the talent they need to grow and scale.

At Palette Skills, we believe there must be better ways to connect a skilled workforce with new jobs to ensure the country capitalizes on the talented workforce it already has. We recently published a comprehensive white paper examining how Canada can use its skilled workforce to build a more inclusive economy.

An inclusive and prosperous economy

As we work with our ecosystem of industrial and academic partners, an important starting point is to understand that economic disruption can create innovation and growth, but it can also bring chaos and instability to people’s lives – whether it’s job losses or increased economic activity cost of living. The risk is that economic gains in growing industries such as technology may not be shared equally by all segments of the population.

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Specifically, racialized Canadians, newcomers, Indigenous peoples, women, and mid-career workers are excluded from recovery. As individuals from these and other groups look for work, they encounter obstacles to finding work. The result is chronically higher unemployment rates among Canadians who need it most to get ahead. For example, 2016 figures show that black Canadians faced an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent, compared to the overall Canadian average of 6.4 percent.

The challenge is finding better ways to future-proof Canadian businesses and workers. The problem is not just building a skilled workforce, but creating the systems and structure needed to redeploy talent quickly and across industries as demand for talent shifts. Resolving this issue is important for an inclusive and productive Canadian economy already impacted by disruptions from automation, recession and the global pandemic. And it will be crucial for the technology sector in the future.

Networked training

Motivated by a desire to help Canadians facing job displacement due to automation and to help close Canada’s digital skills gap by capitalizing on overlooked talent, Palette Skills has developed a model of upskilling based on research conducted with academic and employer partners.

The result was an upskilling program called SalesCamp, a week-long intensive bootcamp to prepare Canadians with great sales skills for the booming business-to-business (B2B) tech sales sector. The program was developed together with employers and is aimed at employees who want to build a professional career, even if they lack a technical background. Next, we launched an accelerated cybersecurity program designed for those with an underutilized background in quantitative analysis.

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Most recently, we presented the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist program in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan. The 8-week program builds skills in automation and digitization technologies in agricultural production and processing. The goal is to provide workers with the tools to identify, manage and implement Agtech solutions throughout the agri-food value chain.

The results of these and other training initiatives are encouraging. As our whitepaper makes clear, industry-led training works not only because such programs address the needs of employers, but also because they provide a diverse talent pipeline to innovative, growing Canadian companies.

For example, our upskilling programs consistently achieve close to 90 percent employee placement rates, compared to traditional training programs, which range between 50 and 75 percent. This track record, in turn, helps build diversity in Canada’s tech sector, with 70 percent of our participants identifying as part of a well-funded group, 55 percent as newcomers to Canada, and 44 percent as women.

Too often industry and politics tend to see growth and competitiveness as opposed to equity and diversity. At Palette Skills, we believe it is time to see equity and competitiveness as complementary parts of a continuous cycle, where the strength of one feeds into the development of the other.

recruitment potential

Our research shows that people trying to move into jobs in new sectors too often have trouble getting their past experience and skills recognized. Therefore, potential-oriented recruitment must be an important part of further training.

For example, admission to our programs assesses a candidate’s potential to be successful in the field and is not simply based on past performance. This helps the program connect to untapped labor markets while avoiding the replication of existing barriers. Additionally, the active participation of Employer Partners in the training gives hiring managers the opportunity to interact with participants and observe how they learn and respond.

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At a broader level, we believe that Canadian society’s ability to maintain social cohesion will depend on ordinary Canadians being able to reap the economic gains that the changing economy will bring. Palette Skills and its partners in the upskilling ecosystem are committed to a national system of upskilling and job transition support focused on enabling individuals and employers to thrive in an innovative and inclusive economy.

Get in touch with Palette Skills today and learn how they are helping Canadian startups hire better!

Featured image courtesy of Palette Skills.

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