Program aims to fill tech workforce shortage with Indigenous students

The initial pilot class has 24 students from different Treaty 7 communities, including some living off-reserve in Calgary, ranging in age from 19 to 63.

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As companies scour the globe for a solution to the tech workforce shortage, a local group is attempting to use this challenge as a means to also tackle reconciliation.

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Levvel has teamed up with Michael Pucci and SAIT for an initiative designed to train members of Treaty 7 First Nations as software testers in a program called Sage Techwork.

For Erin Salomons, it is an opportunity to transition from working in the oil and gas sector to a more stable future in tech.

“I feel like this is a really big opportunity; I would never have known some of the things I’ve learned in the last week, ”she said. “Being among a group of Indigenous people and learning with them has been wonderful and has been very culturally sensitive and culturally aware.”

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The program was originally designed to train women in Rwanda for the same types of tech positions – something Pucci, who ran the program with his wife, said they had a lot of success with.

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The same program has been adapted to the needs of Calgary and the cultural characteristics of the local Indigenous population. The goal is to build up competencies and certify students over the course of a couple of months so they are prepared to enter the workforce as soon as possible.

The course includes one month of classroom work, one month of remote learning and a paid internship with local companies. Throughout the coursework participants will be exposed to different companies from a range of sectors during lunches where students can learn more about the different applications of their education and the opportunities that are available to them.

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The initial pilot class has 24 students from different Treaty 7 communities, including some living off-reserve in Calgary, ranging in age from 19 to 63.

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Pucci said Sage Techwork keys on many strengths the students already have ingrained in them, specifically collaboration, but is designed to help them be more confident and to motivate them throughout the process.

The program breaks the students up into groups and uses peer coaches – of which Salomons is one – to help build leadership skills within the groups.

He added this is a great fit for the type of culture being employed by most firms in the tech sector.

“We’ve created something that’s team-based – they stick together, they learn together, they set their goals together, they win together and that makes them better for tech,” said Pucci. “The myth of the little white kid in his bathrobe making software in Silicon Valley – that’s going the way of the dinosaur. That’s not how software is developed, that’s not how teams work, that’s not how work gets done in the real world. “

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The training will prepare students to break down software and identify issues and errors throughout the development process. It is a skill that will allow them to work in just about any sector – many are already finding a connection with construction or oil and gas after transitioning from those fields. Their positions will serve as an entry into the sector and give them many options for upward mobility.

A number of companies have already agreed to bring on students in internships, which some are ready to use as a probation period towards permanent employment.

Jeremy Thompson, president of the Eagle Spirit Business Development which helped bring the program to Calgary, is serving as a liaison with companies as the program grows.

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The vision is much grander than Alberta’s borders.

“What we’d like to do as a partnership with Levvel is to move this to other places across Canada and create an environment where this type of training is available to other Indigenous people,” he said. “Whether you’re living on reserve or off-reserve, you have a chance now to, one, get certification and, two, get long-term employment in the tech sector.”

Chantal and Brian Milloy, co-founders of Levvel, saw this as an opportunity to act on the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, particularly number 92 which calls on the corporate sector to ensure equitable access to jobs, training and education, among other things.

Reconciliation is something Levvel, a seven-year-old Calgary startup, is taking seriously. As they begin to scale up, Chantal Milloy said they will be aiming to bring a cultural balance to their internal workforce. In the meantime, all of their employees will be enrolled in an Indigenous online course at the University of Alberta to gain a better understanding of Canadian and Indigenous issues and history.

With an estimated 2,000 tech vacancies in Calgary alone, there is a global competition for talent the Milloys believe can be partially addressed by those already here.

“There is a talent pool here that is under-represented and we are making action to change that,” said Chantal. “For us, part of our commitment is reducing the gap – reducing the employment and the educational and skills gap that exists in the tech sector… between Indigenous talent and non-Indigenous talent.”

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Twitter: Osh JoshAldrich03

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