Becca Buffalo. (Contributed photo)

Becca Buffalo. (Contributed photo)

IT training will help Indigenous populations bridge the skills gap

By Rebecca Medel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

The world has become fully tech-based, but sometimes skills training and digital literacy isn’t quick to reach the remotest communities.

As part of a commitment to help bridge the skills gap, Google Canada announced a $600,000 grant on Dec. 15 to support Indigenous job seekers by providing them with free digital skills training.

Research has shown a significant skills and education gap affecting Indigenous populations in Canada which affects employment opportunities and creates greater economic division.

ComIT’s Recoding Futures IT training program will receive a $500,000 Google.org grant, Indspire’s education and job training programs will receive $100,000, and Google Career Certificate scholarships will be delivered by NPower for Indigenous job seekers.

Becca Buffalo, originally of Maskwacis, graduated from NPower’s Junior IT Analyst Program this year with a Google IT Support Professional Certificate that helped her land an internship at Sanjel Energy Services as a support analyst.

She said the program was a mix of technical, professional and personal skills like learning how to interview, make a LinkedIn account, and write cover letters, but also included information about different learning styles and ways to approach learning.

“A lot of us were surprised to see all the ways to learn. They taught us about memory and a lot about teamwork. We had scrum groups in the morning where we’d go over what we accomplished the day before and what we were going to accomplish that day,” Buffalo said.

“This program was perfect for gaining skills to get a job. I would say, if you have the means to do it and you’re interested in it, even slightly, this program would offer you a lot of help in all of those areas.”

Buffalo said the program applied both digital skills building and cultural traditions and practices to her learning, which gave her confidence and pride while moving forward in her career.

“They offer a lot of support to Indigenous participants. They hosted a sharing circle for me and other Indigenous participants in the course.”

Since moving to Canada from Argentina a few years ago, Pablo Listingart, executive director of ComIT, has noticed the digital skills gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Canada. He wanted ComIT to do something about it. He says that less than one per cent of Canada’s Indigenous population is working in technology.

“So it is a really underrepresented minority in the tech industry. And I think that in a country that is constantly talking about a lack of talent in technology, and ‘let’s go abroad and bring immigrants to work in technology,’ I’m a firm believer that we have a lot of talent in this land and that we need to train them,” Listingart said.

“It is something that we should have started years ago because now we are in a situation where there are several reports talking about a lack of 200,000 people from now till 2023 in technology.”

ComIT is a charity that began in 2016 and trains anyone free of charge in IT. This year, the Recoding Futures program began as a means to provide IT training to more than 400 Indigenous learners across Canada.

“We started connecting with Indigenous organizations across the country. We wanted to reach out to people who are in remote areas and to reach out to people who never thought about technology as a career path,” Listingart said.

“We should be training people who are talented, who are passionate, who are willing to go into technology. The pandemic gave us a good opportunity to see that many jobs can be done remotely. So if we have really smart people in remote areas across northern Canada and in the Arctic, then we can train them so that they can work remotely for companies in Toronto and in Vancouver—anywhere.”

The Google grant will be used to take as many people as they can into the Recoding Futures program. This year the goal was to take 300 people and it ended up with about 450. Listingart wants to increase that number to 700 or 800 in 2022 in order to continue providing access to education for those looking to explore a new career path.

The ability to find a job upon completing IT training is highly likely as many tech companies, for example Shopify and Google, grew during the pandemic and are looking to hire people by the thousands, according to Listingart.

There is also a need for people who understand systems in everything from retail to manufacturing as the majority of jobs now have a tech component.