Big Blue to cultivate aboriginal IT talent

IBM Canada is spearheading an outreach program to aboriginal communities through a partnership with the Government of Manitoba.

The partnership, announced Thursday, will see IBM develop connections with aboriginal companies across

the country and encourage aboriginal youth to become involved in IT careers.

Details of the program haven’t been worked out yet, but it will be similar to IBM’s Women in Technology program, said Beth Bell, Manitoba industry leader for IBM business consulting services. That initiative promotes math and science learning to school-age girls and encourages female participation in the IT workforce.

The government of Manitoba has made aboriginal concerns a priority, according to Oscar Lathlin, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. There have been several public-sector-led programs, but the private sector is now becoming more involved in the process, he said.

“”They’ve been phoning us, wanting to know how they can partner with government in their efforts to develop strategies to hire more aboriginal people,”” said Lathlin. “”IBM, being a big company, they’re not a bad partner to have in our efforts to increase opportunities for aboriginal people.””

The ministry will act as liaison to aboriginal communities. Lathlin said he anticipates high interest in training programs that could lead to jobs.

“”IBM has taken this very seriously,”” said Robin Adamson, a spokesperson for the Toronto-based Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. IBM is one of the CCAB’s Seven Generation Partners, which also includes companies like Rogers Communications and Xerox. “”We see them as a huge partner in terms of the development of technology resources within the aboriginal communities.””

If high-tech companies are interested in tapping into these kinds of aboriginal business opportunities, it’s to their advantage to partner with companies and organizations that are part of it, said Adamson.

“”There’s a tremendous amount of technology that can be brought to bear to begin to deliver things like voice-over-IP or any number of the new technologies out there that are of specific benefit to remote communities,”” he said.

Donna Cona Inc., an Ottawa-based aboriginal IT and communications company actually beat out IBM in a contract to supply infrastructure to Nunavut. “”We had an understanding of the environment, the issues and we had the capacity to go after a project that size,”” said Audrey Lawrence, director of management consulting.

Large businesses like IBM can definitely benefit from closer relations with aboriginal companies, she said. In the energy sector, for example, oil and gas deals have gone sour due to misunderstandings about aboriginal land rights.

“”Billions of dollars are being wasted because nobody thought to invite that one player,”” she said. An aboriginal company “”brings them an understanding of the stakeholders that may be involved in a particular project — an understanding of the First Nations community.

“”If they go in with a partner and are seen as working in partnership with an aboriginal company, that denotes respect. The aboriginal company can bring its talent, can bring its expertise, its connections.””

The success of companies like Donna Cona, which is named for Iroquoian Chief Donnacona, helps attract aboriginal youth to the field of IT, she added.

IBM will launch a pilot project next month to promote IT in two schools in Edmonton as part of its national campaign.

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