Despite layoffs in recent months, tech workers are in high demand in Canada.
A look at online job openings reveals many opportunities for software developers, data scientists and other information and communication technology (ICT) workers.
There seem to be more jobs than there are qualified people for them. In fact, a report by the Information and Communications Technology Council last year estimated that the country’s employers would need to fill an additional 250,000 tech jobs by 2025.
Where will employers find these workers?
If Canada and Canadian employers are to compete successfully in today’s increasingly digital world, we must embrace innovative solutions that give employers access to a larger pool of highly skilled workers.
We can do this by creating new, flexible pathways to post-secondary education for individuals who may not have previously considered or been able to afford education for a career in the high-tech sector, including Indigenous, Black women, economically disadvantaged or otherwise excluded.
That’s what the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University in Toronto does. We worked with experienced technology professionals from both the private and public sectors to design and develop a new degree program that offers a unique alternative to the traditional way university students learn.
These pioneers include Ceridian, CGI, Cinchy Inc., Cisco Canada, Connected, EY Canada, General Motors of Canada Company, IBM Canada, mimik Technology Inc., RBC, Saa Dene Group, Shopify, TELUS Health, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and TribalScale Inc.
From autumn 2023, the faculty will start a new work-integrated course in digital technologies. It will be the first of its kind in Canada.
Students who enroll study for a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) degree over four years while working full-time for the same employer. They can specialize to become a software developer, cybersecurity analyst, or data scientist with the knowledge, skills, experience, and professionalism they need to succeed.
As with traditional university programs, students in a work-integrated degree earn 30 credits per year, but instead of spending all of their time in the classroom, their education includes a combination of classroom learning and work experience. Approximately 20 percent of their working time is reserved for theoretical learning during intensive five-day block phases every six to seven weeks on campus, while the remaining working time is spent on the job continuously applying and integrating their academic learning as they gain experience and contribute to the contribute to their employer’s goals.
The ability to work while studying and earn a full-time salary makes the degree more affordable and lowers the financial barriers to post-secondary education.
Whether the students are recent graduates or experienced employees, the program provides coaching and mentoring to help them succeed and build a network of contacts.
Programs like this not only offer a larger pool of highly skilled workers, but also other benefits for employers. Existing employees who enroll in the program to earn a degree or to enhance their skills can gain access to the latest expertise, knowledge and resources to help fill the skills gap in their workplace. By participating in innovative programs, employers could become a magnet for new employees with desirable knowledge and skills.
The format of the program allows students to immediately apply what they learn in class to their job, providing employers with fresh ideas with a reduced learning curve.
The program can also help employers improve their equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives by opening the door to individuals from groups not traditionally represented in the industry. This is important because research shows that employers with a more diverse workforce fare better financially than those without.
While work-integrated courses are new in Canada, a similar model is becoming widespread in most UK universities. Manchester Metropolitan University, one of the UK’s leading providers of this model, is expected to enroll more than 2,300 students in this type of programme, which is offered in partnership with 544 employers.
A report published by Manchester Met last year showed the positive impact of its work-integrated courses in helping traditionally disadvantaged groups become more socially mobile, while empowering employers to address skills gaps by finding and nurturing the talent they need.
Canada needs bold approaches like the work-integrated degree program to address its skills shortage in the ICT sector and to help traditionally underrepresented groups thrive. Programs like the one Lassonde will offer exclusively through York University’s Markham campus have the potential to transform the future of both education and employment in Canada.
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