How higher education institutions can help fuel Canada’s tech talent pipeline

The tech ecosystem in Canada is booming. Major cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Waterloo are gaining significant momentum.

According to a recent report from Silicon Valley Bank, Canadian tech startups saw a record-breaking more than $16 billion CAD in venture capital investment in 2021, more than double the previous high of just under $8 billion in 2019. And 14 Canadian tech companies achieved unicorn status, reaching a valuation of more than $1 billion, in 2021.

When it comes to growth in the tech sector in Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are leading the charge. Toronto startups saw a total of $5.5 billion in venture funding raised last year, Vancouver came in second with nearly $4 billion and Montreal’s total investment funding in the tech sector reached $1.6 billion in 2021.

Multinationals are expanding operations with the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Disney and Google setting up shop in Canada. Startups and scale-ups are growing in size and economic impact and several key sectors are emerging – CleanTech, IT and Engineering, Life Sciences, Interactive and Digital Media, Artificial Intelligence, Social Media, e-Commerce, Fintech and Security.

However, all these gains come with some growing pains. According to a recent white paper from University Canada West, the problem is the surge in demand for talent. Everyone is struggling to find staff, particularly at the senior level.

In British Columbia, the number of tech jobs across all sectors grew from 149,000 in 2015 to 196,000 in 2021, creating 47,000 new jobs, but more than 30,000 of those positions have yet to be filled.

UCW’s white paper looked at what universities can do to help prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s tech realities and fuel the tech talent pipeline.

Several interrelated opportunities were identified:

Help build the skills of tomorrow

Tech leaders are looking to post‑secondary educational institutions to develop talent with a combination of technical, strategic and humanistic skills. While companies can teach people business, students need to come with the ability to be creative, entrepreneurial and collaborative problem‑solvers.

Bring academia and industry together sooner

Companies expressed a pressing need to bring academia and industry together much earlier by integrating tech leaders in the classroom where students can be more regularly exposed to industry experts and create work‑related experiences embedded directly into the course curriculum or completed as work‑integrated learning with real businesses.

Reimagine how students learn and are assessed

Companies are looking for people with different perspectives who can bring unique solutions forward. Universities can help by rewarding differences and championing interdisciplinary learning. Universities can also help set students up for success with a greater focus on iteration, not perfection.

Create solutions for upskilling and reskilling

Canada’s tech industry is largely made up of small and medium businesses that don’t have in-house professional development programming available to employees. Companies are looking to universities to help provide training solutions for today’s employers.

Moving forward, Canada needs to do more to attract and retain talent who want to live, work, pay taxes and build businesses here. Post-secondary educational institutions can play an important part by providing a diversity of educational opportunities to build the workforce the country’s tech businesses need.

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