Tech leaders, thinkers and founders are calling for a more coordinated approach by universities and industry to prepare the tech workforce of the future, concludes University Canada West’s new report Fuelling B.C.’s Tech Talent Pipeline.
With access to talent currently the biggest constraint facing B.C. tech companies, the report explored what companies had to say about how universities can help address the talent crisis. The report is a qualitative, human look at the real-time needs of tech companies in B.C. and what the province’s universities can do to help meet these needs.
“Universities share a collective responsibility to understand what industry needs to help the economy grow, and as importantly, to prepare students to meet those needs,” says Sheldon Levy, Interim President of University Canada West. “As we reimagine the post-COVID economy, we must work together with industry to better prepare the tech workforce of the future.”
Industry compelled universities to help prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s tech realities by focusing on five interrelated opportunities:
1. Universities can help build the skills of tomorrow. Leaders are looking to post-secondary educational institutions to develop talent with a combination of technical, strategic, and humanistic skills. While companies can teach people the business, students need to come with the ability to be creative, entrepreneurial, and collaborative problem-solvers.
2. There is a need to bring academia and industry together sooner. Companies expressed a pressing need to bring academia and industry together much earlier by integrating tech leaders in the classroom where students can be more regularly exposed to industry experts and creating work-related experiences embedded directly into the course curriculum or completed as work-integrated learning with real businesses.
3. There is an opportunity to reimage how students learn and are assessed. Companies are looking for people with different perspectives who can bring unique solutions forward. Universities can help by rewarding differences and championing interdisciplinary learning. Universities can also help set students up for success with a greater focus on iteration, not perfection. “We need to reward students for a much faster pace of work and a first-mover mentality,” says Mike Cheng, CEO & Co-Founder of Lumen5.
4. Universities can create solutions for upskilling and reskilling. Companies are hungry for universities to help provide training solutions for today’s employers.
5. There is an urgent need to change the narrative. Industry shared that B.C. needs to change the way the province is perceived here in Canada and around the world. Universities can help change this narrative and build the reputation of B.C. as a tech hub and innovation leader. Post-secondary educational institutions can also help change the way children and youth see tech as an exciting career option. As Dr. Elka Walsh, National Learning & Skills Lead from Microsoft challenged: “How do we ignite the curiosity of youth and how can we help them make choices to pursue digital early?”
“As tech starts to hit the mainstream, we’re going to need a lot more talent. B.C. needs to build a talent factory and a stronger pipeline. Universities can play a big role here,” says Dan Burgar, Founder & President at Vancouver VR/AR Association and CEO & Co-Founder at Frontier Collective.
The report underscored that universities can provide a diversity of educational opportunities to build the workforce our tech businesses need. While much is already underway – and all post-secondary institutions in B.C. are or have been working to shift their educational offerings to meet this challenge – a more coordinated approach is required.
“Most revealing was that many of the issues, insights and ideas that we heard aren’t new. What this tells us is that as a sector, we still have important work to do,” says Levy. “Industry and academia must join forces to act collectively and with a greater sense of urgency.”
Together, universities can work with industry to help prepare the tech workforce of the future that will pay dividends for students, for companies and for B.C. for years to come as the province works toward post-pandemic economic recovery and long-term growth.
The full report is available online.