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All jobs and sectors need to prepare for the digital economy.SUPPLIED

What will the workplaces of 2021 and beyond look like? Experts have warned about Canada’s digital skills gap for almost a decade. Now, COVID has accelerated the urgency to re-evaluate the future of work. Finding ways to boost Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery will come down in large part to embracing more technology.

“Advances in technology like cloud, data and artificial intelligence are transforming the world’s economies, changing labour market needs, and reshaping how people work and what the workforce looks like,” says Kevin Peesker, president of Microsoft Canada.

Helping Canadians to get there requires efforts by academia and industry alike. That’s why Microsoft, RBC and Seneca (one of Canada’s largest postsecondary institutions) have joined forces to bring 6,000 students a free online course in the fundamentals of Microsoft’s Azure.

Azure is a cloud computing platform, which supports many programming languages, software and systems. The eight-hour accelerated weekend course will provide participants with foundational-level knowledge. The course, starting this month, is designed for students preparing for the workforce and those already in it who want to upskill.

According to a recent survey conducted by Microsoft Canada, only 38 per cent of Canadian business decision makers have changed their employee training or are training their staff in the new tools and platforms their organization is now using. Almost half of respondents said that training or hiring staff with the skills required in their new ways of working has been a challenge this past year.

In the summer of 2020, Microsoft launched a global skills initiative, designed to provide digital skills training to 25 million participants worldwide. The goal is to promote career development in the digital economy and build a talent pipeline for the jobs of the future.

“In designing these programs, we want to ensure every person with the desire to enhance their skillset to meet these new demands has the chance to do so,” says Mr. Peesker. “As a technology company, we have a responsibility to help bring everyone into the digital economy.”

Locally, Microsoft launched the Canada Skills Program in the fall of 2020. Starting with 12 Canadian post-secondary institutions, the program gives students the opportunity to graduate with certifications in desired digital skills, alongside their institutions’ credential.

The immediate need for skilled digital workforce is clear. The Government of Canada has reported that 218,000 information and communications technology positions were projected to be vacant in the country in 2020.

“Given the size of the technology skills gap in Canada, and the additional pressures on the job market created by the pandemic, no one organization can solve this challenge alone,” says Mr. Peesker. “The future of work and our digital economy relies on meaningful partnerships between industry and organizations like Seneca.”

Partnering with industry leaders like Microsoft and RBC, which focus strongly on innovation and the future of work, was an easy decision, says David Agnew, president of Seneca. He says this type of technology training gives students an advantage in the labour market.

“This space is really important for our students as they think about their careers,” says Mr. Agnew. “Cloud computing, artificial intelligence and data analytics are high-demand skills from employers and have an application in almost every area that our students are pursuing. So this seemed like a great opportunity to bring a leading platform into the heart of our programs.”

Seneca provides a polytechnic education (degrees, graduate certificates, diplomas and certificates) to 30,000 full-time students and 60,000 part-time registrants, with campuses in Toronto, neighbouring York Region and Peterborough, Ont.

The current economic and workplace climate calls for resiliency. That requires a high degree of technology and skills development, says Mr. Agnew.

“We can’t go back to a nostalgic view of ‘let’s just pick up where we left off’, like having a resource-based economy. The rest of the world is not thinking that way,” Mr. Agnew says. “Business needs these skills to take their place in the post-COVID world.”

“Training youth for the digital age is a necessity if Canada wants to remain competitive on the global stage,” adds Mark Beckles, senior director of Youth Strategy & Innovation at RBC. “However, gaining those skills requires young Canadians to have an understanding of what the future will actually look like. We have a responsibility to prepare them for the opportunities and ambiguities of the future.”

Mr. Beckles says that starts with teaching people the valuable skills, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, that will ensure they’re ready for what tomorrow’s workplaces demand.

Such requirements are increasingly true for any job in any industry. “Digital literacy continues to grow in demand across all job roles and sectors,” says Mr. Peesker. “Programs like the Azure Fundamentals Accelerated Workshop will ensure students are obtaining the skills necessary to future-proof their career.”

For more information on the Azure Fundamentals Accelerated Workshop, visit aka.ms/AzureStudentWorkshops.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.