By Mary Moran and Elizabeth Cannon
Chances are many of you are reading this online.
With nearly 50 billion connected devices worldwide, and more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day, the way we live, work and interact with one another has changed dramatically — in less than a decade.
In industry, the exponential growth in technology and computing capacity is delivering efficiencies unlike anything before. General Electric has forecasted a $10 trillion to $15 trillion increase in global GDP in the next 20 years – directly from gains in productivity from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
In Calgary, we are well known for our business savvy, engineering innovation, legendary resilience and entrepreneurial fortitude. However, these days, we are lagging noticeably in cultivating a strong technology talent pool needed for success in a world of disruptive change.
In 2016, just 5.2 per cent of Calgary’s workforce was employed in technology. That is less, in some cases, substantially less, than cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Waterloo, Montreal and Halifax. Why? We’re simply not attracting or generating the skilled talent quickly or thoroughly enough to match the exponential innovation occurring around us.
Calgary is perfectly suited to be a centre of IIoT excellence in Canada, with our industrial sectors, excellent post-secondary institutions, cluster of head offices, capital and dynamic workforce.
However, Calgary Economic Development has found some companies drawn by the business advantages and quality of life need to find more people for critical tech positions, including software engineering, computer programming, data science and interactive media development.
The University of Calgary, one of Canada’s top research-intensive universities, has a critical role to play in resolving this challenge. Working with industry and the government of Alberta, it is ready to expand several existing programs and create others to educate and retrain a talented and nimble workforce needed in an increasingly diverse economy.
In March, the government introduced the Economic Growth and Diversification Act that will, among its many initiatives, create 3,000 new student spaces dedicated to technology at Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.
We welcome this much-needed action.
We also strongly make the case that Calgary and all of our post-secondary institutions here need the majority of those additional spaces to help address our tech talent deficit. Our tech talent growth rate from 2014 to 2016 was actually a decline of 2.8 per cent, while in Edmonton, it grew by 11.2 per cent.
For perspective, in Waterloo, it grew by 53.6 per cent.
The University of Calgary offers undergraduate and graduate programs in technology-related fields, including software and geomatics engineering, computer science, mathematics and statistics, and geographic information systems. It is prepared to quickly scale up these programs with government support.
It is also developing new, shorter certificate and diploma programs to help people shift gears mid-career. They include graduate level options in areas such as data analytics and network and software security. The micro programs are part of a stackable educational model that allows working professionals to earn credentials in a shorter time and then stack them toward a graduate degree if desired.
Calgary Economic Development is working with the University of Calgary and our other post-secondary institutions to strengthen the city’s tech talent. We are committed to drive breakthroughs that will help employers and entrepreneurs think beyond tomorrow to opportunities in five or 10 years.
In the last year, we’ve seen the emergence of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Creative Destruction Lab Rockies at the University of Calgary, among many ambitious initiatives that embrace new ways of doing business.
Our evolving innovation ecosystem– from cyber security and autonomous vehicles to Big Data and robotics – demands a new kind of talent that will drive future prosperity and help us stay ahead in globally competitive markets.
With appropriate support, we can leverage novel approaches to education to accelerate and broaden development of our tech talent for an innovative and agile business community. It is the only way we can truly up our game.
This piece was published in the Calgary Herald on April 5, 2018. Mary Moran is CEO of Calgary Economic Development and Elizabeth Cannon is president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary.