Finance

Tech companies want workers faster so they’re designing their own microcredentials at colleges, universities

Article content

When Amine El-Karkri earned his electrical engineering degree 11 years ago at a French university, a unit or course on Kubernetes and Docker did not appear in any of his syllabuses. It couldn’t possibly have as those software, which have become staples of cloud computing, wouldn’t launch until a few years later.

Advertisement

Article content

But, in 2019, when the engineer landed a role across the Atlantic at Montreal-based Groupe Conseil FXInnovation Inc., Kubernetes and Docker quickly became a big part of El-Karkri’s day-to-day work life.

El-Karkri, 35, brought with him several years of experience in the French telecommunications industry, enough to land a job as a senior project manager in charge of projects related to Amazon.com Inc.’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) for FXInnovation, which helps businesses with their cloud computing needs.

He worked his way up to become the AWS cloud director, responsible for overseeing larger cloud operations within the organization — and in turn, hiring people. That’s when he saw that the traditional education system and the digital economy were operating at different speeds. FXInnovation, a firm made up of 750 people, currently has 37 openings. Finding talent is a struggle because demand far outstrips supply.

Advertisement

Article content

The issue with tech, and specifically the cloud, El-Karkri said, is that it’s advancing at lightning speed, while universities and colleges measure time in four-year degrees and two-year diplomas. “When you learn a new language, you will have a new version three months after what you learned,” he said.

That’s not conducive to a post-secondary education system that requires years of study before a person is deemed to have the skills necessary to enter the workforce. In fact, by the time a student graduates, what they learned at the beginning may no longer be relevant.

The traditional education system and the digital economy were operating at different speeds

This issue pushed CEO Guillaume Bazinet to come up with a solution that is being echoed in many post-secondary institutions across the country: industry players are helping universities and colleges design programs and microcredentials to ensure students are up-to-date with the skills or software that are in vogue in the sector.

Advertisement

Article content

“Sometimes the curriculum and the university are not totally in sync with what the industry needs,” said Valerie Puglisi, who is the chief of staff at FXInnovation. “There’s this challenge when people get out of university that they’re not properly skilled to work.”

The challenge has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only cut off the pipelines that supplied specialized, skilled workers to Canadian companies from abroad, but accelerated the shift to a digital economy in which tech and computer skills are key.

In January, FXInnovation began working with the University of Ottawa on a pilot program called CloudCampus, which launched at the end of May. CloudCampus currently has one microcredential that focuses on developing cloud skills that are highly sought after by the industry. The company tapped about 20 employees, plus a select few from its clients, to participate in the seven-week program that tackles subjects such as Kubernetes and Docker and “infrastructure-as-code,” which uses software programming to manage data centres and cloud networks. El-Karkri is part of that small tester group to iron out any kinks before it’s opened up to the public.

Advertisement

Article content

“When I got my (degree) more than 10 years ago, we didn’t learn about Kubernetes or Docker,” he said. “It’s new, so I need to understand that very well to better collaborate with my teams and the client.”

At the end of the microcredential program, students will receive a certificate to show they are qualified in those cloud skills.

Shopify’s office in Ottawa in 2018. The company offers students placements where they learn the fundamentals of a Shopify developer.
Shopify’s office in Ottawa in 2018. The company offers students placements where they learn the fundamentals of a Shopify developer. Photo by Jean Levac/Postmedia

Microcredentials and programs that effectively retrain a worker and deliver better hands-on experience will be key as the Canadian economy pivots to more digital-focused businesses, said Alison Evans Adnani, the senior lead for Shopify Inc.’s own post-secondary training program called DevDegree.

“As more and more companies get into software, we have more of a need for a skilled workforce to create the software that helps make our companies work,” Evans Adnani said.

Advertisement

Article content

There are risks, however, in having the private sector help curate the programs at public academic institutions. It makes strategic sense for companies to get involved, but that could be at the expense of developing a more rounded foundation, said Philip Oreopoulos, an economist at the University of Toronto who focuses on education policy.

“It’s not obvious from the student’s perspective which option would be better — especially if what they’re learning is the ‘technology du jour’ and goes out of date a few years later,” Oreopoulos wrote in an email.

Typically, the tech industry has relied on filling demand for specialized positions with a supply of foreign talent. Fourteen per cent of respondents to the Bank of Canada’s latest quarterly Business Outlook Survey said they would have “significant difficulty” meeting an unexpected increase in demand, among the highest levels on record. Statistics Canada reported last month that companies it groups under a category called professional, scientific and technical services had 47,800 job vacancies in the first quarter, a record. At a more granular level, vacancies in the computer and information systems subsector increased more than 11 per cent during the same timeframe.

Advertisement

Article content

For Misheck Mwaba, the president and CEO of Bow Valley College in Calgary, there is what he describes currently as “unnecessary wastage” in the labour market that the tech industry could better utilize. Rather than rely on foreign workers, companies can hire someone from an adjacent field who levelled up their training by taking one of Bow Valley’s microcredentials in data management analytics, he said.

“They may not have a computer science degree,” Mwaba said, “but if the company is looking for somebody who can look at data, who can scrub the data and identify the trends, then engineers who have been working in the oil and gas industry should be able to demonstrate that.”

Bow Valley College not only offers microcredentials, but works with companies in the surrounding Calgary area to assess what skills the local labourforce lacks and develop programs that span weeks, rather than years, to certify graduates in the skill.

Advertisement

Article content

Currently on offer are a slew of microcredentials in hot-demand fields of the tech sector that the college developed with the likes of ATB Financial, the Royal Bank of Canada, Suncor Energy Inc. and Calgary’s municipal government.

It’s important that the private sector step in to help academia, said Evans Adnani. “Every time I talk to a university, they are waiting and they so desperately want to provide these experiential learning opportunities for students,” she said, referring to DevDegree. The program offers various placements at Shopify to students at select universities, where they go through training and learn the fundamentals of a Shopify developer.

“The consequences of relying on a traditional university experience is that we’re putting our future generations at a disadvantage if we’re expecting them to have work experience to start with, so it will be up to industry to start new programs to try to train their employees,” Evans Adnani said.

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter:

_____________________________________________________________

 If you like this story sign up for FP Economy Newsletter.

_____________________________________________________________

Advertisement

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

    Comments

    Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.



    Most Related Links :
    reporterwings Governmental News Finance News

    Source link

    Back to top button