Google grants ComIT $1.3M to train Indigenous tech workers


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It’s time to toss the old way of hiring, according to the founder of a charity that turns Indigenous Manitobans into tech workers.

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It’s time to toss the old way of hiring, according to the founder of a charity that turns Indigenous Manitobans into tech workers.

Around 1,400 Canadians have graduated from ComIT, a Winnipeg-based charity teaching information technology skills to people facing employment barriers.

Recoding Futures, ComIT’s branch devoted to training Indigenous workers, received more than $1.3 million from Google on Monday to continue operations. It’s reached students in The Pas, Thompson, northern reserves and on small farms, Pablo Listingart, the organization’s founder, said.

However, graduates are often overlooked because they lack a degree or diploma, Listingart said.

“We complain about not having talent, we complain about not having enough people to cover the job openings… and we are constantly talking about immigration,” Listingart said. “We owe ourselves the discussion about developing the talent that we currently have in the province.”

Roughly half of ComIT’s graduates — more than 700 — have gotten jobs.

“It’s not that it’s not doable,” Listingart said. “It’s just that you have to make an effort to get your resume to lots of companies and find that one that is willing to (take) you.”

The new funding from Google will, in part, go towards “building a better pipeline (for) talented candidates (to the) labour market,” Listingart said, noting that could be akin to internships.

Graduates have the skills, he said: there’s a month-long introductory course on programming, followed by a three-month course that changes depending on labour market needs.

Instructors teach coding and tech skills “from sea to sea to sea,” to Indigenous populations that otherwise might not receive such schooling, Listingart said.

“Reconciliation is… bringing equality of opportunity to people,” he said.

Around 1,600 Indigenous Canadians have registered for Recoding Futures. To date, ComIT has accepted 800, due to capacity constraints. Another 1,000 will be trained over the next two years, Listingart said.

Representatives from tech companies — like Google — speak to the students and consult on curriculum.

“In a country that is constantly claiming (there’s a) lack of tech talent,” bringing in Indigenous communities can fill gaps, Listingart said.

Zach Jordan helps clients create resumes at the Dauphin Friendship Centre. Experience alone often doesn’t cut it, Jordan said.

“I personally have put in dozens and dozens of resumes on behalf of clients and gone through all the steps properly,” Jordan, also the centre’s housing coordinator, said. “Maybe one or two (clients) have gotten an interview. The rest, no answer back, but these same agencies are constantly talking about needing workers.”

Many of the people Jordan works with have years of experience in trades but no certification, he said.

“I think a lot of employers need to evolve their hiring processes,” Jordan said.

Many have, according to Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. As labour shortages continue, several employers are looking for candidates with relevant basic skills and soft skills.

“(Companies) know when they bring someone into the organization, they’re going to need training anyways,” he said.

Post-secondaries have upped their micro-credential offerings, signalling a shift to quicker education programs in an ever-evolving labour market, Davidson noted.

“You (still) want a doctor that has a degree in medicine,” said Loren Remillard, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s CEO. “Engineering, you want someone that’s completed the required education to be able to build that bridge.”

Many organizations can afford to hire workers without the post-secondary papers, Remillard said.

“Education’s still very important, but when you’re facing shortages, you really do have to get creative in how you’re finding people,” he said. “You do have to change that traditional hiring process mindset.”

Neo Financial has hired up to 80 people in Winnipeg over the last year and a half. The financial tech company accepts a mix — some staff have graduate degrees, some ended schooling with their high school diploma.

“(Post-secondary education is) certainly a factor on a resume… but it isn’t the overriding factor,” said Paul Card, Neo Financial’s vice-president of technology.

Instead, the business looks for experience, entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to learn, Card said. It mixes staff at junior and senior levels and promotes internally, he said.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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