Sage Techwork is a new program that aims to bridge the gap between Indigenous adults and the tech industry by offering training and a 12-week job placement plus on-going mentorship.
The program welcomed its opening cohort of 24 students in Treaty 7 First Nations territory during an opening ceremony Monday at Chinook Lodge on the SAIT campus.
It's a collaboration among Community Futures Treaty 7, Eagle Spirit Business Development, SAIT, Levvel Inc. and other corporate partners.
Jeremy Thompson, the owner of Eagle Spirit Business Consulting, initiated a conversation on the idea that eventually became Sage Techwork.
He says working in the software industry in Calgary, he noticed a need for quality assurance testers and a lack of Indigenous representation within the industry. He believed a program like this could address both issues.
A step toward economic reconciliation
"For me it was a no-brainer to try to get Indigenous people into the technology sector. With it growing and expanding in Alberta, it's a natural fit, especially with the young population we have," said Thompson.
Thompson believes programs like this are an important step toward economic reconciliation.
"To create opportunities and careers so there are options for people living on reserve or living in cities that weren't there in the past so that future generations can move forward from the trauma of the past," he said.
Through the program, students will receive a certification in software testing from the International Software Qualifications Board Program.
However, director Dr. Michael Pucci says Sage Techwork's strength is that it is not only focused on technical training, which can quickly become obsolete.
Sage Techwork also trains attendees in the soft skills and competencies that are equally necessary success.
Pucci says despite being mostly new to tech, the students bring experience with them that is applicable to any industry.
"Primary success is for students to understand that they can become dynamic learners. So they realize 'I have the competencies already,'" said Pucci.
"And they learn new ways to apply those competencies in new contexts so anything that any industry they land in throws at them, they'll be ready for."
New career opportunities for students
Many of the people enrolled in the course are those re-skilling or switching careers to find employment in tech.
Jadaas Jagwaa is a student and peer coach within the program. The 38-year-old left her payroll management job in 2018 to become a yoga instructor, but after the pandemic limited work as an instructor, she's eager to return to work and learn new skills.
"It seemed like a really solid offering just to be able to transition right into the workplace and walk away with a proper certification," she said.
Jagwaa says she's looking forward to learning with and from other Indigenous students.
"I'm really excited to work with other Indigenous people because I find when I'm in a classroom I'm the only one. But this is great because we're in an inclusive group and we have so much to learn from each other," she said.
For student Evan Kayne, programs like this are mutually beneficial to the individuals and industry.
"Businesses are starting to understand that diversity of thought, not just having a monolithic culture is what makes companies nimble and quick and easy to respond in a fast changing workplace," said Kayne.
Kayne feels the recognition of what indigenous people can bring to business has been a long time coming.
"It's a first step and we've got a long way to go, but it's a start and I hope we see more of it."