Canada has an ICT skills shortage problem, and more women joining the industry is the answer, according to a report released today by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).

The organization reports that Canada will need 182,000 ICT workers by 2019, and an additional 36,000 on top of that by 2020. While Canada isn’t alone in feeling this skills shortage, the government has to take the steps necessary to push Canada forward as a leader in the global digital economy, ITAC said.

Robert Watson
ITAC president and CEO Robert Watson hopes that his organization’s recommendations will be considered by the federal government as it pursues its innovation agenda.

“Canada has the potential to be a leader in the global digital economy but we need to address the skills gap that will hamper growth,” ITAC president and CEO Robert Watson said in a statement to ITBusiness.ca.

ITAC’s report, “ITAC on Talent,” is the fourth and final in a series outlining how the Canadian government can best pursue the six-pillar “innovation agenda” that Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains revealed earlier this year.

Investing in women

On the Canadian front, ITAC recommends that the ICT sector shine its spotlight on two underlit demographics in particular: women and youth.

ITAC reports that women continue to be severely underrepresented within Canada’s ICT sector, with the level of engagement of women in ICT hovering around 25 per cent for the last 10 years, despite research showing that gender equality has only ever been good for business. Diversity in leadership roles has led to an increase of organizational effectiveness, for instance, the report’s authors noted.

However, ITAC acknowledged that the government is attempting to rectify this problem in the industry, as its Department of Status of Women, led by Minister Patricia Hajdu, was instrumental in the mid-2016 launch of the organization’s Women on Boards program, which helps women become ‘board-ready’ before storing their resumes in a searchable database.

Additionally, part of Bill C-25 aims to amend certain business laws by “requiring certain corporations to place before the shareholders, at every annual meeting, information respecting diversity among directors and the members of senior management,” the report’s authors wrote.

But these steps are just the beginning, ITAC suggests: moving forward, the government should “strongly encourage more women to enter ICT by providing and supporting targeted programs and scholarships geared toward this group,” the report says.

Investing in education and youth

Another important step in solving Canada’s increasing skills gap is investing in Canadian youth, especially as the gap continues to widen between what the industry requires and what colleges and universities are able to provide.

ITAC has put two programs in place that it believes will help organizations and the government with this problem: ITAC’s Business Technology Management, which provides post-secondary students with technology and business skills; and CareerMash, a program that aims to inspire high school students to pursue post-secondary schooling in ICT by connecting ICT with such subjects as the arts.

Bringing in global talent

Last week, Minister Bains and Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum announced the Liberal government’s new Global Skills Strategy, which will make it easier for companies to import highly-skilled talent to Canada from across the world.

A recent Global Talent Flows report by the World Bank revealed Canada to be one of the top four destination countries for highly-skilled migrant workers; with the Global Skills Strategy, it will be easier for Canadian organizations to bring in those workers.

ITAC’s fourth innovation paper emphasizes the importance of making it easier for companies to bring in temporary foreign workers (TFWs), noting that they often help scale Canadian businesses while providing experiences and knowledge that younger workers don’t necessarily have. Ultimately, more TFWs will drive the ICT industry forward in Canada, ITAC says.

Most importantly, it says, boosting Canada’s ICT sector carries considerable benefits for Canada as a whole.

“Stats clearly show the shortage of skilled ICT talent in the technology sector is an issue not only in Canada but in countries around the world.” Watson says. “Without the support of government, Canadian companies will not be in a position to innovate, scale or compete in the global market.”

With the right moves, it will.

The full report can be read on ITAC’s website.

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