$29M earmarked for BC tech sector diversity, skills training programs

Province partners with Innovate BC, Mitacs and ICTC to expand opportunities in BC's tech sector to marginalized groups.

The BC government is expanding the Innovator Skills Initiative (IS), a program that provides funding for businesses to hire students or youth for tech-related roles.

The expansion will see the province partner with Innovate BC, which administers the program, Mitacs, and the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). The province has previously announced a $15 million investment into the ISI, and today, it announced that its funding is being supplemented by an additional $14 million from these partners, bringing the total investment into the program to $29 million.

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The Innovator Skills Initiative program provides BC companies with grants up to $10,000 per employee hired for tech jobs and tech-enabled roles. The grant covers a new employee’s salary for four months. There are 3,000 grants available, and organizations can apply for as many as 10 positions.

The funding, partnership and placement breakdown revealed today are as follows: The province is investing $3 million and Mitacs is investing $4.5 million to support 750 ISI placements. The province is investing $3.1 million and ICTC is investing nearly $9.4 million through the Work-Integrated Learning Subsidy top-up to support 1,250 placements. The province is investing nearly $8.9 million through Innovate BC to support 1,000 Innovator Skills Initiative placements.

A redesigned program to reflect a changing industry

In Budget 2021, the province announced $15 million for ISI. Then in June, the government announced that Brenda Bailey, Parliamentary Secretary for Tech and Innovation, would be facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions with people and organizations from under-represented communities to hear how the BC government can prioritize inclusion through the ISI program to help people get their first job in the tech sector.

At the time,  Bailey, who co-founded Silicon Sisters, Canada's first women-owned and operated video game studio in 2011, said the engagements would play an important role in increasing diversity in the techs sector. “I've worked in the sector for almost 20 years. It’s vibrant and exciting and creative,” she told Vancouver Tech Journal. “It's important that those jobs are accessible for everyone, not just people who look a certain way or have unique training.”

In a recent survey of 87 tech employers conducted by HR Tech Group, 43.3% of tech workers self-identified as a visible minority. However, only 31.9% self-identified as a woman, 2.1% as a person with a disability, 0.5% as an Indigenous person, and 8.2% as LGBTQ+/2S.

Bailey has previously said she believes engaging with both companies and prospective employees is important so that both ultimately benefit from one another. The goal with the recent stakeholder engagements—which included First Nations Technology Council, Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada, MOSAIC, Inclusion BC, HR Tech Group, and Ethos Lab, among others—was to gain feedback that could help evolve and shape programs to reflect the needs of the tech industry and people hoping to join it.

We are now seeing the fruits of Bailey’s labour, as the ISI has now been redesigned to provide employers with access to larger grants, doubling the previous maximum grant amount from $5,000 to $10,000 per employee to hire workers who are either students or who already have industry-recognized credentials, among other changes.

“I want to thank everyone who provided invaluable input to the Innovator Skills Initiative program redesign,” Bailey said. “With your expertise, we have created a program that will help more people become part of our strong, innovative and inclusive technology sector with career starts that can lead to permanent, good jobs.” 

The redesign also makes the program more inclusive by prioritizing placements for people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and historically under-represented in the technology sector. Preference is given to employers hiring candidates who self-identify as Indigenous, Black, people of colour, women and non-binary people, 2SLGBTQ+ and people from under-represented communities.

Bailey added, “With the program changes in place, BC companies will have an easier time accessing the program and quickly putting new employees with the right technology skills in place. By consulting with businesses and people from  marginalized communities, we have created a program that will help strengthen the diversity of  the tech sector.”

“Technology is needed for most companies to expand and reach new markets,” said Raghwa Gopal, president and CEO of crown agency Innovate BC. “The Innovator  Skills Initiative can help BC businesses hire the technology workers they need to move forward.”

Businesses can learn more and apply for the Innovator Skills program on Innovate BC’s website.

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