As the Canadian business landscape rapidly digitizes, a shortage of skilled labourers continues to hinder its growth potential.

A new report published on Apr. 12 by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) indicates that Canada will need to fill approximately 216,000 technology-related positions by 2021, up from 2015 predictions of 182,000 by 2019.

ICTC’s Labour Market Outlook 2017-2021 points out that this demand stems from a steadily growing Canadian digital economy, which experienced a 2.38 per cent growth between 2011 and 2016, compared to the 1.17 per cent growth for the rest of the economy.

“The overall digital labour force now amounts to around 1,389,000 professionals, and is reflective of the health of this economy and the expanding range of occupations in this space,” ICTC writes.

The report finds that 53 per cent of tech professionals in the digital economy work in non-tech industries, “which indicates an increased prevalence of technology across all sectors of the Canadian economy.” It predicts that by 2021, the proportion of tech workers in non-tech industries will rise to 84 per cent.

Where talent is needed

Much of the rising demand for tech professionals is attributed to transformative and rapid advancements of technology, the report adds, particularly in five emerging sectors: virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), 3D printing, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G mobile technology.

VR and AR, for example, are currently worth approximately $30 billion and $120 billion respectively and will need to fill positions such as computer and information systems managers, graphic designers, computer and software engineers, technical sales specialists and even industrial instrument technicians and mechanics.

3D printing has already proved to be disruptive within the manufacturing sector, and will need more technological talent to help realize its economic opportunities, including computer programmers, manufacturing managers, electrical and electronics engineers, graphic arts technicians, as well as interactive media developers.

Blockchain technologies will transform the financial services industry, ICTC says, and professionals with the skills to further the development of such infrastructure will be in high demand. Database analysts, data administrators, software engineers and designers, as well as user support technicians will be especially sought-after, and will also be needed for AI advancement as well.

The report forecasts that “besides the significant potential for retail, manufacturing and health sectors, AI will continue to create economic advancement in banking services, transportation and more.”

And the last key transformative technology, the global 5G value chain “will generate $3.5 trillion in output, outweighing the current value of today’s entire mobile value chain, and supporting 22 million jobs in 2035,” the report explains. Its wide range of applications could see it disrupt everything from the public administration industry and manufacturing, to financial services as well as the culture and recreation sectors.

Canada-wide problem

The need for tech professionals is a cross-Canada issue, with ICTC highlighting Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec as the three provinces with the most demand.

Ontario will continue to move from a manufacturing-focused province to one fueled by technologies like Ai, 5G mobile and 3D printing. ICTC predicts approximately 88,000 tech jobs will be created by 2021 and total employment in the tech sector will reach about 669,500.

British Columbia will experience “a significant increase” in tech employment by 2021, with total employment expecting to be over 161,000.

Quebec notes aerospace and gaming as its two largest industries that hire tech talent, which stand to benefit from the emergence of the five key emerging technologies. The report indicates that 44,400 tech workers will be in demand, bringing total employment up to more than 336,000.

Solving the skills gap issue

To bridge the gap, the country needs to better train workers and place a special focus on preparing youth with the right skills to enter the tech industry, ICTC stresses.

“The hallmark of success in this environment is equipping Canadians with the relevant technology skills to innovate, adopt technologies, and produce higher-value goods and services,” the report says. “This will empower a more dynamic economy based on our ability as a nation to intensify investments in infrastructure and [research and development], diversify our industries, and expand trade.”

Competition – mainly from Canada’s southern neighbour, the US, and other industries looking to digitally transform – and lead-time to staff critical positions also remain a challenge for many businesses.

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