Percentage of workforce made up of tech talent is less than that in most other large Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver

Julie Rubin is president of InnoTech College in Calgary.

Julie Rubin, president of InnoTech College in Calgary.

Calgary’s Business: Is Calgary experiencing a tech talent deficit?

Rubin: Yes, I believe this to be the case. Currently the percentage of our workforce that is made up of tech talent is less than that in most other large Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Not only is there less tech talent here, but the number is also dropping. This is probably because the tech talent that we do have is relocating to more active innovation centres and/or because we’re just not graduating enough of them out of our post-secondary institutions. Calgary is strong when it comes to its engineering and science experts, but the skills that are most in demand today, across all industries, are in the digital technology fields. One can easily see this through doing a basic keyword search within Calgary jobs posted on Indeed. Such a search shows only 13 job hits for the word ‘geologist,’ compared to 183 hits for the word ‘Javascript.’

Currently. larger public educational institutions are not able to meet this demand, as they release only a few hundred tech grads into the workforce in Calgary each year. This is where smaller, nimbler educational institutions and organizations fill the gaps. InnoTech College is among them, but so are various coding bootcamps and online programs. Employers are more concerned with whether someone has the necessary and recent tech skills that they require, rather than with where they attained them from.

CB: What’s the importance of the technology sector to Calgary’s economy?

Rubin: Technology skills are in high demand by all sectors, including oil and gas, health, education and construction, among others. No matter whether a business is big or small, they’re likely running a minimum of a handful of technology platforms, have at least one website, and are looking to not just maintain these tools but also to migrate to new tools or develop their own. Not only will having more technology talent help develop the technology sector, but it will also help all sectors modernize, improve efficiency, innovate and better compete on a global scale.

CB: Why are employers looking elsewhere to fill tech jobs?

Rubin: Employers find themselves looking elsewhere because often either the talent is not available locally or, if it is, it may not be in large enough numbers for them to be able to pick someone that would be perfect for the role. Often for an employer to take a risk with bringing on a new team member, they’re wanting that individual to not only have the necessary skills, but also the right attitude, be at the right compensation level, as well as fit the culture of the organization. If there are only a handful of individuals applying for the job, it’s unlikely that such a small pool of candidates will generate a sufficient number of viable picks.

CB: Can you explain the challenge of training for a sector that is continually evolving?

Rubin: There are certainly challenges but as long as educational institutions are aware of them and can stay adaptable and nimble, these challenges are manageable. The biggest challenge being that the digital technology field is evolving extremely quickly, much quicker than any other knowledge base. For instance, a curriculum that we launched at InnoTech College just two years ago has already been rewritten multiple times since its launch. Most of what went into it two years ago is no longer relevant and/or losing relevance. With this in mind, it makes sense for educational institutions to keep a very strong pulse on the market and be re-evaluating their educational programs quite frequently. Even doing so annually is probably not enough. Quarterly would likely be sufficient.

It is also extremely important for educational institutions to be humble and candid with students when it comes to the delivery of their programs. It is paramount of educators to help students understand that the education that they’re getting through any particular program today will not be sufficient for a lifelong career, as the skills and knowledge that they learn will become outdated very quickly. Educators must also teach students the skills of assessing upcoming trends, to transfer their existing knowledge to new technologies, and to get comfortable with overcoming the ‘imposter syndrome’ that’s so commonly felt by technology professionals at all levels, i.e. feeling like you don’t quite know what you’re doing but doing it anyways. We focus on stressing these softer skills with our programs at InnoTech College.

CB: How important is it for employees to keep updating skills to stay relevant?

Rubin: It’s most important for employees to be updating their skills. In fact, quite a large number of students who we see come through InnoTech College are past technology professionals whose skills are out of date. The new term that I’ve heard used for this type of updating is to ‘upskill.’ To update, many professionals utilize shorter courses, online programs and/or through attempting to apply the new skills to building a project of their own. Often employers don’t take into account that a new language or software has just gained popularity within the last six months; despite this, they expect that the individual who they hire on is already an expert in it, and potential candidates must mould themselves to this expectation.

– Mario Toneguzzi


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