With $15M skills initiative, BC hopes to increase tech sector diversity

Parliamentary Secretary Brenda Bailey is soliciting feedback from companies and under-represented communities with the goal of expanding opportunities in the tech sector.

The BC government is investing $15 million in the Innovator Skills Initiative (ISI) to prioritize under-represented people in the technology sector.

The ISI offers $5,000 for up to 3,000 paid placements at businesses in BC that are hiring for tech or tech-related roles. Innovate BC, a Crown agency led by Raghwa Gopal, administers the funding, which supplements the salary of a new employee.

As part of the program, Brenda Bailey, Parliamentary Secretary for Technology and Innovation, is leading stakeholder engagement 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.

For Bailey, who co-founded Silicon Sisters, Canada's first women-owned and operated video game studio in 2011, these engagements are necessary steps, given what’s at stake.

“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 believes engaging with both companies and prospective employees is important so that both ultimately benefit from one another. She’d like to hear what the barriers have been for certain communities, in addition to what skills are the most in-demand from local companies. The hope is that this feedback can help evolve and shape programs to reflect the needs of the tech industry and people hoping to join it.

A potential shift can be found with the ISI program, Bailey suggests, which has historically been available to people who are doing a lengthy traditional degree or diploma. “We’re seeing interest from the tech sector in faster, focused training that can help get people into the sector more quickly [than a degree] and with skills that are immediately applicable,” she explained.

The engagement sessions Bailey is spearheading will include women and gender-diverse people, Indigenous, Black and people of colour (IBPOC), and people with disabilities, among others. While the sessions, which started in May, will continue late into June, Bailey says she’s already learned a lot from participating organizations and is pleased to hear that many in the tech sector share the government’s diversity-related priorities.

“Most heartening to me is how much great work we're hearing about in the sector, in regards to diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It hasn’t always been the case. I think there have been tremendous strides made.”

“It's really encouraging to engage with businesses that are so excited and engaged in this work,” she added. “And I think it's really timely that we're revamping the program to support this initiative and to help businesses move in that direction.”