Building a Pipeline of Future Tech Workers and Innovators
The Saskatchewan tech sector is growing, and with all the work put into pitch competitions and incubators, the sector needs to make sure there is enough labour to support burgeoning tech startups.
“Now that remote work has become such an accessible piece, a person in Regina with the cost of living being super low can make the same as somebody living in Toronto for a remote value,” says David Crossman, the chief technology officer and co-founder of Regina-based startup Citrus Technology.
“So, now we’re not only competing on a local level, we’re competing on a global level with companies across the world with different salary ranges.”
Building a competitive labour market for the tech sector means they are pulling skilled individuals from across Canada and outside the country, but there is also a push to encourage home-grown talent to enter the industry.
Diversifying the tech industry
PLATO Sask Testing, a majority-Indigenous-owned IT services business based in Regina, provides software testing services. The company provides guaranteed employment to Indigenous software testers who successfully complete their six-month training and work placement.
Thomas Benjoe is the president of PLATO Sask Testing, and he says that because there is no post-secondary program that trains software testers, their company fills a critical gap in the tech sector.
“We’re now giving our own people the opportunity to participate in the tech sector in a different way, but also filling a huge gap in our community—and especially our tech community—in being able to ensure that the software that they’re developing is professional tested,” says Benjoe.
PLATO Sask Testing is training its own software testers and it’s also providing each of its Indigenous software testers with in-demand specialized skills so they can become senior level testers.
Crossman is also interested in removing the barriers into the tech sector. One barrier he says that shouldn’t hold people back is whether they have a post-secondary credential in a computer science-related program. He’s been an organizer with HackRegina, a non-profit that hosts coding events for people in the Regina tech community. Through the events he’s seen people cultivate an interest in programming and even land jobs because of the projects they’ve developed.
“We need to really change the view of what is ‘people in tech’,” says Crossman. “We need diversity. We need those outside perspectives because we’re not going to grow and scale at the size that we need without it. We can’t create barriers in who were hiring or what our ideal person looks like.”
Building interest in tech
There are more 5,000 technology companies operating in Saskatchewan, according to an economic impact study by Nordicity and commissioned by SaskInteractive. The sector is booming. Creating a pipeline of future tech workers in Saskatchewan is becoming critical to sustaining the local businesses.
The Saskatoon Industry Education Council (SIEC) is a bridge between youth in the Saskatoon area to career opportunities in the province. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, they work to offer hands-on career exploration events and programs by partnering with industry.
Janet Uchacz-Hart is the executive director for SIEC. She says that through the CanCode program, 65,000 students have had the chance to learn about robotics and computational thinking, which can ultimately lead to an interest in the tech industry—or at least narrowing what aspects of technology are a good fit for them.
“Experiential learning for us is really key,” says Uchacz-Hart. “Then kids can say, ‘I really want to do this’ or ‘I really don’t want to do this.’ … Experiencing hands-on learning [is] really critical to helping young people find out what their preferred future is.”
Uchacz-Hart says that with digitization, many career paths have an element of technology to them, so part of the SIEC’s goal is getting youth comfortable with engaging with technology, regardless of what sector they eventually work in.
When it comes to software testing, Benjoe believes that youth have an aptitude through the interaction with technology in their everyday lives.
“I think a lot of our youth don’t realize that they have the expertise. I mean a lot of people are gamers, right? And they’re used to solving problems in games, they’re used to multitasking, so they have this hidden skill set that nobody’s really unleashed yet,” says Benjoe.
“That’s essentially what they’re doing here when they do the testing work… You’re going into the software; you’re trying to find as many bugs as you can to make sure everything is functioning fluidly.”
As a founder of a tech startup, Crossman is looking to build his team over the coming years. One of the best ways to make sure we’re investing in our homegrown talent is to invest time into teaching entry and junior level workers so that the tech ecosystem can thrive.
“We need to start growing, here in Saskatchewan, developers that can sustain the system,” says Crossman. “We can’t just keep poaching these intermediate seniors. We need to start growing these juniors because eventually they’re going to be the leaders of the next generation of startups.”