More inclusive workforce to advance tech sector in B.C.

Bruce Ralston

PEOPLE under-represented in B.C.’s growing technology and engineering sectors, including women, Indigenous peoples, immigrants and people with disabilities, will have better opportunities and advancement through new government-supported initiatives.

Provincial funding of up to $2.2 million over two years will break down barriers through pilot projects, such as mentorship for employees and resources and training for employers. Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, made the announcement on behalf of Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, at Powertech Labs.

“An inclusive and respectful workplace will cultivate ambitions in people and allow employees to advance their career,” said Mark. “The rapidly growing tech sector has thousands of job openings that it needs to fill, but it needs to be more inclusive of people who are all too often ignored. We’re working hard to give people the skills to succeed in the tech sector so together, we can build the best B.C.”

B.C.’s tech sector continues to grow rapidly but has a projected talent shortfall and low levels of diversity and representation from key groups, including women, people with disabilities and Indigenous peoples, a 2017 report, Diversity & Inclusion in the BC Tech Sector, found.

“British Columbia’s tech industry is thriving, but for companies to continue to innovate and grow, they need access to a diverse pool of skilled workers,” said Ralston. “STEM plays an important role in growing B.C.’s economy. With these pilot projects in place, we will be able to build a more diverse workforce that will help strengthen and enrich the sector with a range of experiences, knowledge and perspectives.”

The pilot projects will be managed by Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) and HR Tech Group. The projects will look at how best to attract, retain and support career advancement of equity-seeking groups in B.C.’s technology workforce.

Support for the projects is through the Sector Labour Market Partnership (SLMP) program. SLMP projects are funded through the Canada-BC Labour Market Development Agreement and help industry and employers understand and respond to changing labour market demands.

Theresa McCurry, CEO, Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC, said: “Women are making strides to increase their representation in STEM fields. They continue to make up a lower proportion of engineers and applied scientists – about 15%. We need a cultural shift to reach our goal to increase the number of women in the engineering and applied science workforce to 30% within the next decade. Collaboration with industry organizations, employers, school districts, post-secondary institutions and high schools is essential, as we aim to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in these sectors.”

Stephanie Hollingshead, CEO, HR Tech Group, added: “There is a strong willingness in our sector to improve diversity and inclusion practices, but the majority of tech organizations in our province are small and mid-sized, and they simply do not have the resources to do the work required. This funding enables the collective multi-year effort needed to implement practices that will improve the participation of women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers and individuals with diverse abilities into B.C.’s tech industry workplaces. We anticipate this project will have a tangible and immediate impact on the industry and on B.C.’s economy.”

Raymond Lings, President and CEO, Powertech Labs, pointed out: “Our staff rank among the top in their fields and bring their expertise to finding creative solutions for our clients. We’re excited about the opportunity these projects will bring to help the whole tech sector move forward to a more inclusive workforce and to ensure we have enough skilled technology and engineering experts to keep finding those solutions.”

Ravi Kahlon, MLA Delta North and Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Multiculturalism, said: “I’m proud that we’re taking steps to increase diversity in our workforces here in the Lower Mainland and throughout the province. It’s about making sure B.C. tech and engineering industries have the skilled workforce they need to thrive, ensuring equal opportunity for everyone, and building strength in our capacity through diversity of experience.”