Trying to break barriers in Canada’s digital ecosystem

·4 min read

Canada needs a well-defined multi-stakeholder approach to attract and retain new immigrant tech talent, according to the organizer of a summit this week aimed at helping new Canadians break barriers in the country’s digital ecosystem.

“We need everyone at the table, from government to employers and educational institutions, to work with incubators and settlement services groups to establish a defined pathway for new Canadians to thrive in the country’s tech ecosystem,” said Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, the founder of and CEO of Scale Without Borders, an enterprise dedicated to helping newcomers access resources in the tech industry.

“The Canadian tech ecosystem is not only in need of tech talent more than ever — it is in need of diverse tech talent. And newcomers and immigrants bring just that,” said Chelkhaoui, whose free newcomer-centric tech summit is being labelled the largest event of its kind.

Sean Fraser, Canada’s newly minted Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship will be among 20 speakers at the virtual summit to help newcomers access key tech networks, gain knowledge and skills, and connect tech employers.

Chelkhaoui says after immigrating to Canada from Morocco at only 17 years old, she knows “first-hand the challenges of landing and thriving in a fulfilling career in tech.” It was only eventually, after finding the “right network circles” that she found some success. Chelkhaoui, who was recently named Bay Street Bull Women of the Year 2021, is now hoping to share some of those gained insights back.

Abdullah Snobar, executive director of The DMZ, an organization that helps entrepreneurs build and scale their tech start-ups (and part of the summit) says “ensuring newcomers in tech have the resources and tools needed to thrive in the Canadian tech ecosystem has never been more imperative.”

For Victor Dodig, president and CEO of CIBC, a key hiring partner at the summit, it’s about embracing diversity.

Then “you gain insight into your clients’ thinking, you develop better relationships, and you build a better company,” he says.

Canada, like many other countries, is seeking to hire and retain as much tech talent as it can to fill in gaps in a wide variety of related sectors.

“Employers across Canada are looking for talent in big data, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics and other emerging areas, as well as in traditional technology roles, such as systems analyst, database analyst, programmer and support technician,” according to Cyberprovinces™, the annual report on the size and scope of the country’s tech industry and workforce published by CompTIA, the non-profit association for the global technology industry.

Ottawa estimates there are over 44,000 companies in the Canadian Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector and the large majority (over 40,000) fall within the software and computer services industries.

ICT sector revenues reached an estimated $230 billion in 2020. That same year, more than 671,109 individuals were working in the ICT sector, accounting for more than 3.7 per cent of Canada’s total employment.

Double-digit growth is projected for the period from 2019 through 2027 for several tech-related occupations, including database analysts and administrators (22 per cent), systems analysts and consultants (17 per cent), software engineers (16 per cent) and user support technicians (15 per cent).

Among the issues expected to be raised at this week’s summit is the Trudeau government’s decision to drop a digital government minister from the cabinet lineup.

The Institute for Research on Public Policy said the move not to have a dedicated minister to spearhead the country’s digital ecosystem is ill-timed, as the world is scrambling for tech talent in the face of a global shortage.

Another issue hampering the attraction and retention of skilled tech talent is the income disparity for such occupations between U.S. and Canada, according to the 2021 State of Software Developer Careers in Canada report, conducted by Angus Reid Group.

The study found that taken altogether, the median annual income of software developers comes in at $90,000 CAD. The median annual income of software developers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, came to $110,140 USD in 2020.

“It’s no wonder that Canadian software developers, especially those with established careers, struggle to find opportunities that are worthy of their skills and experience,” according to the report.

Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media

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