Indigenous communities given support to join tech labour force

'We are underestimating the talent that there is in this country, because there are people who are really eager to learn and to be part of this tech ecosystem'

Indigenous communities given support to join tech labour force
The coast line of Ulukhaktok located on the west side of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Google Canada has announced a $600,000 commitment to provide free digital skills training to Indigenous job seekers across Canada.

This funding includes a $500,000 grant towards ComIT's Recoding Futures IT training program. An additional $100,000 in funding will support Indspire with their education and job training programs and an allocation of Google Career Certificate scholarships for Indigenous job seekers.

ComIT’s program is focused on providing scholarships for Indigenous communities who have been underrepresented in tech across the years, says Pablo Listingart, executive director at ComIT, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

And they try different things to meet the needs of Indigenous peoples who are eager to learn.

“We try online courses that are similar to an offline experience, an on-class experience. So we have instructors, we have different systems, we use Zoom or Google Meet to run classes but we also provide 24-7 chat so that people can approach instructors and ask for assistance. We have the staff who contact people all the time to see how they are doing, how we can help, what we need to modify.”

Real-life applications

Prior to providing the program, ComIT did a lot of research to ensure that they were armed with knowledge on how to successfully execute their plan.

“When we were talking with people from these programs, we noticed that the approach, historically, has been to send someone to a community, an instructor, for one month or something, to teach people digital literacy,” says Listingart, adding that these programs tend to focus on helping people learn how to create an email account, how to use Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, among others.

“And the main barrier, the main challenge that people were facing was that there were sometimes three people who are interested. So you are sending an instructor to a remote community and you only have three people attending.”

This approach is simply not reaching enough Indigenous peoples who have the desire to learn and possibly break into the technology labour force, says Listingart.

“We understood that maybe people are actually looking to learn about coding and other digital skills and there is more interest in these topics than in learning how to use Word, or learning how to open an email account,” he says.

“What we saw is that one-third of the students who finished our courses have been creating websites and applications for their businesses, for their communities, for their social projects. So there was a real interest because people want to contribute to their communities. There was a hunger for actually learning real-life tools for real-life applications.”

More than 350,000 young Indigenous people will come of employment age in the next few years, and they could boost the country’s economy by $27.7 billion per year if they are given the right employment supports, according to a previous report.

Last year, ComIT was able to get 800 people to sign up for the program. Now, the company is looking to reach more interested parties within Indigenous communities in Canada.

“I think that we are underestimating the talent that there is in this country, because there are people who are really eager to learn and to be part of this tech ecosystem.”

Remote opportunities

Sixty-five per cent of workers globally are seriously considering leaving their role, according to a previous report.

And helping Indigenous communities train for jobs in the technology sector may help employers address the ongoing “great resignation,” says Listingart.

“There is a need to understand that, now, work is also about having something that is fulfilling. And what I understand is that technology, a lot of times, enables that. If you like design, then you can design websites, you can design mobile applications, and you can do it from your home.”

The tech sector also offers jobs that people can do remotely, says Listingart. This is an additional appeal considering that many workers in the IT industry are eager to continue working from home, and more than 70 per cent would actually quit if their employer forces them to head back to the office, according to a previous survey.

“You can be in the middle of the Arctic in northern Canada working for a company [somewhere else] nowadays, because most of the jobs now can be done remotely. You can work for a company in Vancouver, or anywhere.”

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