Flexible pathways to post-secondary education the solution to the ICT sector job shortages

Despite layoffs in recent months, technology workers are in high demand in Canada. A look at online job postings reveals many opportunities for software developers, data scientists and other workers in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

Flexible pathways to post-secondary education the solution to the ICT sector job shortages

There seem to be more jobs than there are qualified people to do them. In fact, an ICT report last year estimated that the country’s employers would need to fill an additional 250,000 technology jobs by 2025.

Where are employers going to find these workers?

If Canada and Canadian employers want to compete successfully in today’s increasingly digital world, we need to embrace innovative solutions that give employers access to a larger pool of high-skilled workers.

We can do this by creating new, flexible pathways to post-secondary education for individuals who may not have previously considered or been able to afford an education leading to a career in the high-tech sector, including those who are Indigenous, Black, women, economically disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized.

This is what the Lassonde School of Engineering at Toronto’s York University is doing. We’ve collaborated with senior technology experts from the private and public sector to design and develop a new degree program that will provide a unique alternative to the traditional way that university students learn. These trailblazers include Ceridian, CGI, Cinchy Inc., Cisco Canada, Connected, EY Canada, General Motors of Canada Company, IBM Canada, mimik Technology Inc., RBC, Saa Dene Group, Shopify, TELUS Health, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and TribalScale Inc.

Beginning fall 2023, the School will launch a new Digital Technologies work-integrated degree program. It will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Students who enrol will study towards a Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) degree over four years while working full time for the same employer. They will be able to specialize to become software developers, cyber security analysts or data scientists, with the knowledge, skills, experience and professionalism they need to succeed.

Like traditional university programs, students in a work-integrated degree program will earn 30 credits a year, but instead of spending all their time in the classroom, their education will include a combination of in-class learning and workplace experience. Approximately 20 percent of their work time will be set aside for theoretical learning during intensive five-day block periods every six-to-seven weeks on campus, with the remainder of their work hours spent at the workplace, continually applying and integrating their academic learning as they gain experience and contribute to their employer’s goals.

Allowing students to work and earn a full-time salary while studying makes the degree more affordable, reducing financial barriers to post-secondary education.

Whether the students are recent high school graduates or experienced employees, the program will provide coaching and mentoring to help them succeed and build a network of contacts.

Besides providing a larger pool of high-skilled workers, programs like this offer other benefits for employers. Existing employees who enrol in the program to earn a degree or build on their skills can gain access to the latest expertise, knowledge and resources, helping to close skills gaps in their workplace. By participating in innovative programs, employers might become a magnet for new workers with highly sought-after knowledge and skills.

The program’s format enables students to immediately apply what they learn in class to their job, giving employers the benefit of fresh ideas with a reduced learning curve.

The program can also help employers enhance their equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives by opening the door to individuals from groups who have not been traditionally represented in the industry. This is important, with research showing that employers with a more diverse workforce perform better financially than those without one.

While work-integrated degree programs are new to Canada, a similar model is widely used at most universities in the United Kingdom. Manchester Metropolitan University, one of the leading providers of this model in the UK, is forecast to have more than 2,300 students enrolled in this type of program, offered in partnership with 544 employers.

A report that Manchester Met released last year showed the positive impact that its degree apprenticeship programs have had on helping traditionally disadvantaged groups become more socially mobile, while enabling employers to address skills shortages by finding and growing the talent that they need.

Canada needs bold approaches like the work-integrated degree program to address its skills shortage in the ICT sector and help traditionally underrepresented groups succeed. Programs like the one that Lassonde will be offering exclusively through York University’s Markham Campus have the potential to transform the future of both education and employment in Canada.


About the author:

Flexible pathways to post-secondary education the solution to the ICT sector job shortages

Jane Goodyer is the dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University.