At MaRS, my team and I work to create a pipeline of diverse talent that will succeed in Toronto’s tech sector through a combination of programming and advocating for new policies.
Coming off the heels of our Talent Fuels Tech report, we wanted to take a look at the latest Ontario Budget to see how it might help our ventures access the talent needed to grow and scale their businesses.
With this lens, we saw three positive areas and one area that we thought could be stronger.
The proposed Ontario Training Bank would provide an opportunity to incentivize life-long learning for both talent and companies. To create it, the government pledges to invest $63 million in “a one-stop shop for employers, job seekers and workers to access the skills training that meets their needs.” This would help SMEs retain top talent while enabling all people to continue sharpening their skills, which is important for inclusive economic growth. Job-seekers and workers would be able to continuously upgrade their skills, and it would be less expensive for SMEs to support the retooling of their staff.
To have a maximum impact, this training bank would have to be outside the government to allow it to be nimble, industry relevant, with “just-in-time” iterations and pivots. With rapid changes in the economy, this training bank needs to be close to the ground, agile and seen as a trusted partner to industry. Also, if launched, it shouldn’t be a “one-size-fits-all-industry” roll-out as each sector has specific needs to be addressed under this umbrella.
The government proposes supporting pre-grad talent with $132 million committed over the next three years to “develop post-secondary education programs that respond to the changing needs of students and employers.” We support this initiative, as students are worried about being ready for the future of work, and need relevant, industry-specific knowledge that will allow them to hit the ground running. More work-integrated learning, employer and PSE collaboration is required, and this commitment would enable it to happen.
Furthermore, while their proposed investment in STEM education is critical—as we must continue to grow this pipeline—venture employers are also looking to hire arts majors to fill sales, communication and marketing roles. It is important not to miss out on good talent because they are outside the typical innovation ecosystem. Understanding that technology employers are hiring from a range of programs, including STEM and arts-based fields, ensures that we enable all our students to help build our growing innovation and tech-enabled industries.
Also, while PSEs are critical partners in preparing students for work, industry is also a key partner. There are innovators building tools and technology that the government could leverage to prepare students for the workforce. As we position these offerings, innovative companies that are working on these problems daily should be leveraged to help reduce the gap between employers and prospective employees.
Supporting international talent supports us all. With highly skilled newcomers entering our province, we must begin to better prepare them with a #FutureWork ready skillset. Helping newcomers find employment by investing $45.6 million over 3 years for training programs is a great start, but I think we should provide deep industry-specific knowledge to newcomers. Furthermore, it should be more than about the difficult, technical skills. We found that within the innovation ecosystem, there are specific mindsets required for job seekers to land the job that go beyond the individual’s technical skills, which are absolutely required to enter the market.
These funds should ensure that international talent can begin to learn the nuances of the market, giving them a winning edge to land and thrive in this workforce. The skills preparation programs must target these individuals to ensure the highly trained professionals are connected to the local industry ecosystem, and ensure they train them with #FutureWork skills, and create Work-Integrated learning opportunities for employers to meet their new talent. This training cannot be outside of industry, but must happen with industry as a sponsoring partner. By doing this, we will get newcomers relevant to industry nuances, allow them to settle and gain employment faster and finally ensure that employers are accessing highly-skilled diverse talent.
While the theme of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for talent wasn’t a strong area of focus in the budget, it is key in Toronto’s tech industry. The industry recognizes that in order to build a robust pipeline and increase the pool of talent, firms must recognize and leverage diverse candidates in their workplaces. To remain competitive, both growing and similar sectors must support diversity in their workforce by taking into account ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and more. Doing so will ensure that all citizens can access the new economy and that our companies can reduce their hiring time, ultimately creating and increasing opportunities for all people.