Blockchain, artificial intelligence, 5G mobile networks, 3D printing and virtual reality are creating a need for digital skills that will see a demand for an estimated 216,000 additional technology workers by 2021, according to a new report.
A study by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), found that employment of information and communications technology professionals outpaced the economy last year six-to-one.
“What’s happening now is we are seeing fast-paced industries go from low growth to high growth,” said Namir Anani, president and chief executive of ICTC.
“We have to look at how do we reposition the workforce rapidly through short-duration training to provide pathways and mobility to get into fast-growth sectors of the Canadian economy that are increasingly becoming digital.”
As more industries recognize the importance of a digital strategy, competition for tech workers has increased. ICTC highlighted transportation, retail, healthcare, finance and manufacturing as sectors where demand is ramping up.
“The environment is changing fast and every sector is seeing its own disruption,” Anani said.
“We have to reflect as a country on how do we leverage (disruption) and what are the transitional strategies we have to build to move some of the displaced workers from low-growth to high-growth areas of the economy.”
There was a five per cent increase in employment for digitally skilled workers in 2017, the highest growth in 10 years, according to ICTC’s report. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of Canada’s tech workers were now spread across non-tech sectors.
Not only are Canadian companies struggling to find enough digitally skilled workers to fill positions in the present, but the largest group of tech workers is already approaching retirement, with 13.1 per cent being between the ages of 55 to 64. ICTC’s research was conducted with the support of Microsoft Canada.
“The issue is really about supply and demand. The demand is increasing as more sectors are adopting digital technologies and the supply of talent and skills is a challenge,” said Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
“When we put forward our Innovation and Skills Plan, by far this was the number one issue — around training and people having the right skills to succeed today and for the job tomorrow.”
The Liberal government has introduced various short- and long-term initiatives to help close the digital skills gap, Bains said. The Global Skills Strategy, for example, allows companies to bring digitally skilled talent over from other countries in as quick as two weeks.
Last week, the Liberals announced they would spend $50 million on programs to help a million kindergarten to Grade 12 students learn to code as well as train 63,000 teachers on how to use new technology in the classroom.
“If you look at coding and digital skills, they are becoming the new ABCs,” Bains said. “This is really about our government’s commitment to setting up people for success and making sure they have the right skills for the middle-class jobs of tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, companies that are having trouble filling vacant tech positions are being forced to get creative when it comes to attracting talent.
Fortinet, a cybersecurity company with offices in Vancouver, offers its own online courses for people who want to boost their digital skills. Fortinet is planning to add an additional 1,000 Canadian research and development employees over the next three years.
“We definitely see the crunch time, even when trying to hire people that are also going for all these jobs not just at direct competitors but across the tech industry,” said Robert May, Fortinet‘s vice-president of product management.
Though Fortinet has still been able to attract the appropriate talent worldwide so far, May said government funding and education could help the quickly growing demand for digital skills.
“Anything that can drive up that supply would be welcome.”