Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I believe everybody has a copy of my presentation.
I am David Ticoll, executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills.
The focus of CCICT, as we call it, is Canada's information and communications technology skills challenges. Our thought leadership and programs have achieved significant real-world results, in no small measure due to our collaborative multi-stakeholder partnerships. Formed in 2008, CCICT includes 25 financially contributing corporate members—that is, industry members—plus universities, school boards, industry organizations, and professional associations, two of which as it happens are sitting with me today. We all came together to tackle a skills crisis.
With below 3% unemployment for most of the past decade, Canada's ICT labour market is very tight. Recent studies from several sources, including Industry Canada, reconfirm this reality.
It's not just about the ICT sector. From finance to natural resources, other sectors employ nearly half of Canada's 800,000 ICT workers. The ICT sector, some 5% of GDP, accounts for one-third of private sector R and D in Canada. In every sector, ICT professionals enable innovation and productivity growth. A tight ICT labour market limits the potential of our entire economy.
A major issue is that too few Canadian students choose today's ICT-related career paths. Enrollments in ICT-related post-secondary programs have yet to recover from a major collapse that occurred in 2001. Young women comprise well under 20% of enrollments in core technology programs. As I'll explain in a moment, demand for ICT professionals is changing in very exciting ways, but this news is not getting to the students, parents, and teachers who need it.
Finally, a global war for talent makes it increasingly critical, and challenging, to make it appealing and easy for foreign technology professionals to live in Canada.
This crisis can be resolved with a few small investments and policy initiatives. We should focus on three priorities in Canada.
First and most important, we need to fix the domestic skills pipeline by motivating more young Canadians to choose ICT-related careers. How do we do this? Well, the new narrative I just talked about needs to be communicated. Tech careers now are very different from the boring geeky image of yesteryear. They appeal to every taste and interest. A quarter of the jobs, from analysts to entrepreneurs and CEOs, are as much about business as about technology. Others combine information technology with life science, security, analytics, marketing, gaming, art and design—you name it—even politics. Students, parents, teachers, and the public at large need to hear this new narrative.
Second, we need to make it easier to recruit skilled foreign workers. Employers often need to bring in seasoned IT people with five to ten years of experience or more. In this fast-paced sector they can't afford to wait the six months it often takes for immigration approvals. Another issue is that too many foreign students in Canadian universities decide to leave the country after they graduate.
Third, we need to improve labour market information, and you can see my comments on that.
We are not starting from scratch on these three priorities. Regarding skilled foreign workers, we've seen very encouraging indications from government, thanks to this committee's work and also Minister Jason Kenney's recent statements.
Regarding the domestic skills pipeline, we have achieved some positive results at our organization, with two initiatives.
First, something we call CareerMash conveys the new ICT careers narrative with a catchy slogan: “Today's careers mash up tech with anything you imagine”. With compelling content at the CareerMash website and nearly 100 volunteers, along with our Quebec counterpart MaCarrièreTechno, we've delivered inspiring real life stories, in person, to nearly 10,000 students since our launch just last October.
The results are clear: 55% of participating students attest to increased interest in tech careers, and 85% of teachers and role models the we send into classrooms find the CareerMash narrative to be new and illuminating.
Second we are increasing the supply of business-tech hybrid graduates—that quarter of those 800,000 jobs. In 2009, a national committee that we organized of employers and universities designed Business Technology Management, an undergraduate degree program. It's now in ten universities from coast to coast, with three in Quebec and more on the way. Again, the results are in: BTM schools report significant gains in enrollment and student quality.
But this is just a start, and here is what we are proposing for you to think about. We believe we can definitively turn the tide on this by taking five additional steps, and kind of pull a switch over a period of a few years.
First of all, take that new narrative on ICT careers and make it national. The narrative we've introduced is accurate, illuminating, appealing, and it works. Industry groups in several other provinces besides southern Ontario, where we got this thing started, want to take it up. But it requires sustained government partnership, and needless to say, dollars.
In addition, ministries of education, school boards, and teachers should bring the narrative directly into career guidance programs and career-related content in all subjects in the curriculum.
Secondly, we need to make some changes in post-secondary programs. We have some gaps around communication, collaboration, and real-world learning in technical programs. A lot of those programs have a boot camp feel that leads to dropping out. These programs need to be changed. We need more co-ops, more internships, and more student-oriented business incubators. We need government support for some of these too, and incentives for employers to do these things.
Thirdly, we need to make it a lot easier and more attractive for highly qualified foreign professionals to come to Canada and stay here. Implement those plans to simplify and speed the entry of foreign skilled professionals. Provide compelling immigration incentives for foreign students. For example, we could forgive post-secondary fee premiums for those who build careers here, say, after having worked here for 10 years or what have you.
Fourthly, we need to innovate to get more frequent, more granular, and more accessible labour market information. One strategy that we advocate is to form a public-private-academia partnership to do this. There are our funding issues. There are data gathering issues. There are motivational issues. We need a new way to do this. Also, a big focus should be on disseminating the results, not just to academics and policy-makers, but also to the key people who need to make decisions about their own careers—students, parents, teachers, and so on.
Fifthly, this needs to be a big campaign, an “own the podium” style of campaign for digital economy skills. Our Olympic successes were fueled by an inspiring campaign that brought the country together, and we pulled it off. Imagine how Canada could build on this success to seize the golden rings of competitiveness in the 21st century digital economy. Think about it. Brain power is the natural resource of the knowledge economy. To build Canada's reserves we propose a time-limited, multi-stakeholder, highly focused project team with clear objectives, a mandate to act, program budgets, and measurable target results.