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B.C. tech-sector diversity program gets ‘revamp’ with $29m in hand

Victoria, two new partners aim to fill 3,000 spaces via Innovator Skills Initiative
B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon | submitted

The B.C. government and two new partners within the tech sector are putting up a combined $29 million in what is being described as a “revamp” of the Innovator Skills Initiative (ISI).

The ISI’s initial goal was to find job placements for 3,000 people facing barriers entering the sector — such as women, Indigenous people, Black people and other under-represented groups — by giving companies access to $5,000 grants.

Those grants will be expanded to as much as $10,000 after it was revealed Monday two new industry partners would be matching the province nearly dollar for dollar.

Victoria previously announced in June it was earmarking $15 million for the ISI program, while Mitacs and the Information and Communication Technology Council are now also coming on board with an additional $14 million in funding.

The ISI is being administered by Crown agency Innovate BC.

“We know that there’s a bit of a skills shortage out there and we hear from employers that we’re looking for more people,” Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon said during a Monday briefing.

“[This] will help the players to be able to give opportunities to communities, to people who normally don't get these opportunities — and the great thing about this program, what I love the most about the program, is the flexibility of the accreditations required.”

The ISI was previously geared to those pursuing four-year degrees, master’s degrees or PhDs, but it will now be opened up to those who might only have a certificate in a related field.

“We recognize that not everyone takes that route to training, and there's lots of different ways that people enter the tech sector. We want to respect that,” Brenda Bailey, MLA for Vancouver-False Creek and parliamentary secretary for technology and innovation, said during Monday’s announcement.

Consultations on how the program will now operate began in May with groups including Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, Black Business Association of BC and the First Nations Technology Council, among others.

“We listened and collected feedback from more than 20 organizations that support folks who were equity-seeking. We also sent hundreds of surveys to individual organizations, to businesses, and again to folks who support equity-seeking populations. And we gathered all of that information up and took it on board to revamp this program,” Bailey said.

“This was a big list and it took a lot of voices to get us to where we are today.”

A May 2020 McKinsey & Co. report bolstered findings from 2015 regarding the financial success of businesses that are ethnically and gender diverse. 

Companies with more than 30% female executives were 25% more likely to be more profitable than the national industry median, and ethnically diverse companies were 36% more likely to be profitable than the national industry median.

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