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President, IBM Canada

Canadian business can no longer just “mind the gap.”

Many industries, most significantly the technology sector, must step up their efforts in addressing the mounting skills shortage and the long-standing gender gap to prepare our work force for the future.

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The Canadian tech sector has never been stronger, with job growth in Toronto outpacing Silicon Valley, and tech-related employment growing four times faster than overall employment in Canada. This growth is having a positive impact on our economy, but it has also resulted in a vacuum of skilled resources that are needed to keep pace.

Why is it, then, that women only represent just over 27 per cent of the Canadian information and communications technology work force? A number that has not changed much over the years and has actually declined from a high of 29 per cent in 2011.

The low percentage of women engaged in technology suggests a large untapped pool of talent. However, according to the Mowat Centre, the tech gender gap has more to do with the pipeline, or lack thereof – a challenge they refer to as a “leaky pipeline.” This happens when young girls and women don’t choose certain fields of study, it prevents them from pursuing careers that rely on that training once they enter the labour market. Many female students just aren’t considering STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects at college or university.

Therein lies the opportunity. If we work on fixing the leak, we can also address the tech skills shortage and prepare for the future of work that will see new jobs created, existing jobs changed and new skills required.

Preparing for the future of work where no one is left behind

We are at an inflection point. The technologies that are driving this growth, including artificial intelligence, blockchain and data science, are transforming all industries and professions. Around the world and here in Canada, we are seeing government and businesses preparing for a new round of industrial transformation as these technologies drive new business models, new ways of working and new products.

As we have seen in the past, with new technology comes opportunities that can be powerful economic drivers, which can translate into better jobs and incomes, and have a positive impact on society at large.

With this great opportunity – and responsibility – in front of us, we must first understand and accept that the future of work will be different, and we need to act now to prepare for it so that all benefit from it – to ensure Canada’s continued economic growth and that no one is left behind.

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IBM has a strong commitment to shaping the future of skills and education – a commitment that is grounded in our belief that companies have an obligation to responsibly bring new technologies into the world. We have not only been training IBM employees in new, in-demand skills, but also investing in external programs to ensure others, ranging from students to more mature professionals, have an opportunity to gain the skills needed to work in partnership with these technologies.

An important part of this commitment is our focus on preparing girls for the possibilities of technology. We know very well that diverse teams create ideal work environments, promote diversity of thought, and foster creativity and innovation.

Engaging girls in the possibilities of technology

In 2018 alone, 29,000 girls in more than 20 cities across Canada benefited from IBM’s STEM programming, which aims to educate and inspire girls to engage with technology, build their skills and consider a related career. We’ve learned the key to the success of these programs is to not only provide access to technology, but to the people who work with this technology every day. Girls need role models and I’m so proud of the many IBMers for taking on this important role.

Jill Zelmanovits, chief executive of Girl Guides of Canada, says strong female role models are essential to tackling the STEM gender gap.

“By engaging girls at an early age to explore technology in a positive environment, we are enabling and empowering them to try things they might not have otherwise. Companies like IBM have a significant role to play as a catalyst in this, which goes far beyond their technology and expertise. When girls hear and learn from successful women in tech, they can imagine themselves in these amazing roles and the possibilities of technology become real to them.”

IBM volunteers are also working with Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy – the first STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum focused secondary school in Canada. It offers an integrated Ontario Secondary School Diploma and a tuition-free, two-year computer software engineering technician college diploma.

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Building on the success of these programs, we are very close to launching an exciting and progressive program in Canada that has been implemented by IBM in other parts of the world. Pathways in Technology Early College High School is a six-year educational model that starts in Grade 9, combining high school and college coursework with internships and mentoring from companies such as IBM to provide job-ready skills, work experience and a no-cost degree. The goal is to prepare young Canadians for academic achievement and economic opportunity, regardless of their backgrounds.

Our collective responsibility

As leaders and as mentors, we must move from discussion to action in advancing inclusion in STEM and preparing our work force for the future. It should be our collective goal to prepare young people – girls and boys – for the new technology-driven opportunities of the future. We all have a role to play, and we must act now to build a robust and balanced talent pool across Canada to close the gap and ensure no one is left behind.

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