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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Canada, like its neighbour to the south, is on the precipice of a significant skills gap. Research shows that by 2019 there will be 182,000 jobs in information and communications technology that won't be filled because of a lack of people with the right skills in this country.

These unfilled roles will include jobs like computer programmers, software engineers, data administrators, information systems analysts and network operators – good paying, interesting jobs in a variety of fields, including healthcare, entertainment, financial services, marketing, and just about any other industry you can think of. Already 40 per cent of recently surveyed IT leaders had trouble recruiting IT professionals with the right skills and nearly half (46 per cent) had difficulty filling a position in the last year.

This is why some companies are changing the way they look at recruitment. Rather than always basing hires on "what they know" they're looking at "what they can do." It's a slight shift, but important in this digital economy with shrinking resources. What this means to potential employees is that they don't necessarily need six-figure educations to land excellent jobs. In fact, many institutions and companies are providing free online courses.

A number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free online college-level classes open to anyone, have emerged for those who want to learn without a hefty price tag, including courses provided by some of the world's most prestigious universities such as Princeton and Duke. Progressive companies are also starting to provide free courses for anyone who wants to upgrade their skills. Programs like Trailhead, which trains participants on Salesforce expertise, helps prepare people for the nearly 30,000 Salesforce-based jobs projected to be created in Canada between now and 2018. Trailhead – which is a big focus at our annual Dreamforce conference held in San Francisco this October – applies the model of interactive learning made popular by MOOCs and websites such as Code School, Codecademy and Khan Academy, to the goal of learning Salesforce. And it's working. Recruiters are seeing certifications and skillsets like these as attractive additions to LinkedIn profiles.

Successful participants have included war veterans looking for retraining, administrative assistants who are able to use their certification to open doors to new opportunities, people who have a passion for technology and those already in an IT capacity who simply want to better their career. Not only are they preparing themselves to fill current and coming skills gaps, but they're finding opportunities for consideration where they may not have existed before.

With 12 out of the 25 highest paying jobs in demand right now focused on IT, and the youth unemployment rate at just more than 13 per cent, it's the ideal time for Canadians to consider enhancing and building their skill sets regardless of their background.

Sarah Franklin is senior vice-president and general manager of Trailhead, Salesforce

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