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MELISSA SARIFFODEEN

We need to teach 10 million Canadians to code or we’ll get left behind Add to ...

Melissa Sariffodeen is co-founder and CEO of Ladies Learning Code.

According to current projections, there will be a shortage of more than 200,000 information and communications technology (ICT) workers in Canada by 2020. These figures, published in the 2016 ICTC Digital Talent Strategy Report, paint a grim picture of our not-too-distant economic future. Left unaddressed, this looming skills mismatch will have far-reaching consequences for Canada.

As a nation, our ability to prosper socially and economically will undoubtedly be compromised if only a small portion of Canadians are equipped with the skills necessary to participate fully – let alone to innovate – in our increasingly digital world.

While it would be foolish to assume that we know exactly what the jobs of the future will be, we do know that 42 per cent of the Canadian labour force is at high risk of being affected by automation.

I also think it is safe to assume that, in the coming years, it will be difficult to find a single professional field or vocation untouched by increasingly sophisticated technology. Beyond jobs merely touched by technology, we know that the Canadian tech sector alone was responsible for 7.1 per cent of Canada’s economic output last year – a figure greater than those of the finance or insurance industries.

Canada’s ability to retain its position as a significant contributor to the global economy is contingent on our collective willingness to invest in improving digital literacy among Canadians now, equipping them to participate fully in our digital world.

While some may consider this to be a radical position, it is already a widely accepted fact in much of the Western world. When it comes to coding education for youth, Canada has already been outpaced by countries such as Estonia, Britain and Australia. And we are even lagging behind our neighbours to the south. Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a “Computer Science For All” strategy to empower a generation of U.S. students with the skills they need to thrive in our digital economy.

Coding education in schools can no longer be considered a unique competitive advantage. It must be understood as the minimum standard.

The good news is that Canada is uniquely positioned to rise to the occasion and become a world leader in computer science education. We have the expertise, the infrastructure, the resources and the political will to develop and execute on a comprehensive and cohesive coding education strategy.

This is precisely what Canada Learning Code, a groundbreaking cross-sector coalition formed to increase awareness of the importance of digital literacy and improve access to coding education in Canada, aims to provide.

Simply put, Canada Learning Code is an initiative to unite what were previously disparate groups – industry, non-profits, educators, government – and together reach 10 million Canadians with coding education by 2027.

Our vision is grand and our goal is aggressive, but when I look at the list of the partners who have already signed on to our coalition, I have no doubt that we will be able to make it happen.

We know that this initiative is, without a doubt, the next necessary step that we must take in order to truly transform our country and usher in a new era of Canadian innovation.

I have heard the concerns of teachers who feel ill-equipped to teach their students material more technical than they have ever seen. I have seen parents’ voracious appetites for learning opportunities for their children. I have visited northern communities where the desire to build outpaces their limited broadband access. I have listened to the fears of young people in their 20s who are struggling to find well-paid, rewarding work.

The needs of our country are daunting. But I believe that, under the guidance of a central body tasked with unifying the efforts and resources of the public, private, and non-profit sectors, we can transform computer science education in Canada and leave a legacy whose positive reverberations will be felt by generations to come.

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