Ladies Learning Code aims to close IT skills gap by bringing tech education to 10M Canadians

A new initiative by Ladies Learning Code aims to hit the organization’s largest audience yet.

The Toronto-based not-for-profit, which its organizers formed in 2011 to bring tech education to as many children, teachers – and yes, women – as possible, now hopes to reach 10 million Canadians over the next decade with its newest initiative, Canada Learning Code, announced Thursday.

Ladies Learning Code CEO Melissa Sariffodeen
Ladies Learning Code CEO Melissa Sariffodeen calls the organization’s Canadians Learning Code initiative a…

“Over the past five years we’ve realized just how transformative technology can be – how important technological skills are for the future, and just how many people outside of women don’t have access to it in Canada,” Ladies Learning Code CEO Melissa Sariffodeen tells “I mean, we don’t know what the jobs of the future are, but we know the skillset you learn through coding, which is problem solving and innovation, is going to be important to figuring out what they will be.”

Part of Sariffodeen’s incentive for cofounding what she admits is an “ambitious” program is the tech community’s “overwhelming” support for Ladies Learning Code’s current efforts, which thus far have reached more than 45,000 novice programmers across the country at over 900 workshops and events; while another has been demand for those services from groups the organization doesn’t currently serve.

Another, however, was the so-called “skills gap” that projects a shortage of more than 200,000 ICT workers in Canada by the year 2020.

“There are so many groups trying to tackle this issue, and there’s no unified group or organization or even association that’s trying to bring everything together so that we know we’re doing it right,” Sariffodeen says. “So that’s what Canada Learning Code is really aiming to do – leveraging what we’ve done with Ladies Learning Code and its program delivery mechanisms to bring together other groups, not-for-profits, industry, the public sector, to strategically tackle this.”

The program boasts some impressive founding partners, including Ottawa-based e-commerce success story Shopify Inc., Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., and Vancouver-based telecom giant Telus Corp., the majority of which have supported Ladies Learning Code’s initiatives in the past and seen the results of its work firsthand.

“I think they see the value in the work that we’re doing with the community and the mechanisms we’ve already created,” Sariffodeen says. “So being part of that – financially supporting but also strategically supporting – our latest initiative is really compelling to them.”

For example, Shopify founder and CEO Tobias Lütke has told Sariffodeen that Ladies Learning Code already did the heavy lifting by building its network of 29 chapters across Canada, along with programs for each and research into the needs of each community.

Lütke in particular encouraged Sariffodeen and her colleagues to expand their efforts, she says, and Canada Learning Code is the result.

“We’ve always been Canada-grown and have never looked outside of Canada because there’s so much work to do,” she says. “So the idea of ‘Canada Learning Code’ just fit. It made sense.”

Much like Ladies Learning Code, a significant percentage of Canada Learning Code’s efforts will take the form of workshops and other programs, though Sariffodeen says the organization is also planning an ambitious public outreach campaign, with what she describes as “Hour of Code-esque” event being planned next year in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, and will be collaborating with partners to ensure underprivileged Canadians have access to the tools needed in the first place.

“For us it’s really important that every Canadian has access to the Internet and a laptop, and so we’ve been chatting with partners about that,” she says. “But largely it will be about getting in front of Canadians and teaching them this stuff in a bunch of different ways.”

She’s certainly encouraged by the reaction so far.

“The amount of support and attention we’ve been getting has been really remarkable,” she says. “We’ve been looking for partners, looking for resources – we still are – and now the hard work can start.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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