Tech talk

·4 min read

Even before the pandemic took hold, the tech industry was a driving force to sustain and grow Manitoba’s local economy.

But amid lockdowns and restrictions, the burgeoning sector is one of few that stands out against the tides of COVID-19, while hundreds of businesses reliant on in-person operations are at the risk of permanently disappearing.

That’s why the industry-led association which represents the technology and innovation sector is introducing a new initiative aimed at attracting and retaining employment, as it continues to contribute to the provincial GDP.

“If we’re going to be looking at an economic recovery any time soon, this is a sector that most certainly will be vital,” Tech Manitoba CEO Kay Gardiner told the Free Press Thursday. “And to do that, we need our growing talent here to know their possibilities locally.”

Starting Monday, Tech Manitoba is hosting a three-part digital conference series with industry recruiters from around the province. The organization believes it’s a “massive step up” from previous years of in-person events with the capability of hosting a larger audience.

At least 400 students graduating from tech programs have already registered for the first event on Feb. 22, with the capacity for 100 more to attend for free. The next two events will be held virtually on May 20 and Oct. 21.

“The idea is to promote workforce development and keep our most talented individuals right here after they graduate,” said Gardiner. “We have so much to offer and we want them to be able to see that.”

February’s event will be centred around recovery and reinvention following the COVID-19 pandemic. The other two events will focus on cybersecurity and diversity, later in the summer and fall.

“It really is the elephant in the room right now, isn’t it? And that’s why we wanted to make sure the first part looks at that specifically,” said Gardiner. “We want to examine and discuss those big questions about how we got here and where do we go from that to our best place of growth.”

Rita McGrath, a best-selling author and business professor at Columbia University in New York, will be the keynote speaker next week. As an expert on leading innovation and growth during times of uncertainty, McGrath will tackle those issues prominently in her address.

This year’s hosts are Métis advocate Julia Lafreniere and musician Anthony Sannie who founded marketing company Grape Experiential.

Among industry recruiters attending will also be Winnipeg-based commercial printing company Pollard Banknote. The firm focuses on the production of stamps, stocks, bonds and government documents. It’s recently become the leading producer of lotteries in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere globally.

“It’s a well-kept secret, but we’ve really been a digital innovator from the very beginning,” executive vice-president Pedro Melo said Thursday. “And I think what we really want to see now is our growth as a company continuing with our local recruitment.”

Melo said there’s no shortage of tech talent and opportunities in Manitoba, citing recent contributions to the local GDP. In 2019, tech was a $2-billion industry in Manitoba and remains on track to add an additional $1 billion to the provincial GDP by 2030, on an annual basis.

But he said, as a result of the pandemic, the provincial sector is now competing with potential employers “virtually everywhere” in the world.

“The simple fact is that most of the roles that the industry would offer for our most accomplished recruits are now remote,” Melo said. “That’s why it’s so important to seek out the people right here and bring other skilled students from elsewhere to retain this growth.

“This conference is a major and important way of doing that.”

Brandon University computer science student Matthew Hammond is eager to be one of the students attending the conference.

“My love with computers started at 14 when my older brother helped me build a computer to play video games on. Since then, I’ve seen the benefits of technology throughout the world,” he said.

“With Manitoba’s tech industry growing by billions of dollars and many new tech companies popping up, the potential to forge a tech career in this province is very bright.”

Those hoping to attend can sign up on Tech Manitoba’s website at https://mailchi.mp/techmanitoba.ca/disrupted-2021

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press