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In 2015, Anam Raza took time off from her career as an IT developer to have a baby. By the fall of 2019, her son was starting junior kindergarten, and Ms. Raza felt ready to return to work. She began applying for entry-level jobs as a software developer but was unable to find a position. She thinks it’s because her time away made her lose touch with the industry and her skills had fallen behind.

“I was disheartened because I didn’t even get an interview call,” Ms. Raza recalls.

She decided to head back to school and upgrade her computer programming diploma through a four-year information technology program at York University. A week into university, in September, 2019, she received an offer to join IBM’s Tech Re-Entry Program, offering two six-month terms of paid training with the intent of landing a full-time job at IBM upon completion. She left her studies at York to join the program, focused primarily on cloud and cognitive software.

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“The returnship position was for women who had been out of the work force for two or more years,” Ms. Raza explains.

In January, 2021, after completing the program, Ms. Raza received a job offer to join IBM full-time as a staff software developer.

Upskilling efforts like IBM’s go beyond your typical onboarding and training. The company is hosting in-depth training to give program participants the skills they need to fill in-demand roles. But according to a May, 2021, survey conducted by HR consulting firm LHH, 36 per cent of Canadian companies have not considered reskilling or upskilling programs.

While IBM started its Tech Re-Entry program in 2016 to improve gender diversity in STEM roles, it also became a way to solve its skills shortages which are especially prevalent in newer industries like cloud computing.

“In Canada, the IT industry is so competitive around talent,” explains Katherine Faichnie, director and HR leader at IBM Canada. “If your whole focus was hiring already skilled people, you would not be able to fill all your jobs. There would be a lot of people in the Canadian market who wouldn’t be fit for those exact requirements of the job.”

Ms. Faichnie also believes that workers that are out of the job market for a few years are a “lost opportunity” that should be tapped.

“This is a segment of the population in Canada that sometimes is overlooked or missed,” she says. “They’ve got to have programs to attract and draw them in and help them get their feet on the ground to a level where they really can perform.”

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At Amazon Web Services, their Tech U program targets another prime sector of job hunters – new graduates – to fill roles in cloud computing.

“We hire people out of computer science programs, so they have fundamental computer coding skills, but they learn how to operate and support customers on AWS,” explains Maureen Lonergan, director of training and certification at AWS.

“For six months, we put them through a pretty robust training program. They get on-the-job training and mentoring and then they are part of our work force.”

Ms. Longergan sees the Tech U program as an investment.

“We believe we need to invest in early-career talent,” she says. “Cloud skills are in high demand. It’s a challenge for everybody to find them. We need to build for the future.”

She also views programs such as Tech U as a way to foster a sense of loyalty to the company, reducing attrition rates.

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“They’re in a cohort of 30 or 40 people from different universities all over, working together and training together,” Ms. Longergan says. “It’s such a great experience for them. They have a lot of energy and they’re super excited about the job.”

Spending time and money to upskill workers can be a hard sell for some companies. But Kim Spurgeon, senior vice president of national customer experience at LHH, sees clear advantages.

“You create more loyalty and productivity of people when you invest in them, whether it’s a new grad or anyone in the organization,” Ms. Spurgeon explains.

In industries that have been impacted by automation, such as manufacturing, Ms. Spurgeon also sees an opportunity for companies to reskill workers that would otherwise lose their jobs. The movement away from bricks-and-mortar customer service jobs, especially in banking, insurance and retail, is another opportunity for reskilling. At Amazon Web Services, there is also a program that hires military veterans and trains them for careers in cloud computing.

When it comes to new graduates, Ms. Spurgeon hopes that upskilling programs can help break the “vicious circle” that young workers face.

“I want to hire someone with experience,” Ms. Spurgeon says. “But if you don’t give the new grads that experience, how do they actually get it?”

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In-demand industries have already reached a tipping point – there aren’t enough workers already equipped with the skills that companies need. So, instead of being skills-focused, she encourages organizations to hire candidates that show a capacity to learn and upgrade their skills.

“You can’t train attitude and aptitude, but you can really train someone on a technical skill if you give them a chance.”

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