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Digital Technology Supercluster turns attention to tech skills for underrepresented communities

Vancouver-based supercluster putting up $1.4m for skills training
Photo: Tyler Orton, BIV

Efforts to boost digital skills in communities underrepresented in the tech sector are getting the backing of the Vancouver-based Digital Technology Supercluster (DTS).

The Canadian Tech Talent Accelerator is set to launch this month, offering a 15-week online skills-training program to 2,500 people in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax.

The DTS announced Thursday (January 28) it’s contributing $1.4 million to the initiative that aims to re-skill women, Black, Indigenous, LBGTQ and people with disabilities amid the major economic shakeup brought on by the pandemic.

NPower Canada, a charitable organization that focuses on setting Canadians on career paths, will be facilitating the Canadian Tech Talent Accelerator along with Microsoft Canada Inc. and non-profit Blueprint ADE.

The program is specifically targeting Canadians ages 18-29 and will also help participants land jobs.

While the DTS is contributing $1.4 million, the private sector and other partners are putting up an additional $7.3 million for a total of $8.7 million in funding.

“Oftentimes people from marginalized or underrepresented communities have a harder time getting on the path to success and that's what today's announcement focuses on: Working together to provide a better on ramp into the economy and to better jobs for underrepresented youth,” Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) president Brad Smith said in a video announcement.

The Vancouver-based supercluster received a $153-million funding commitment from the federal government in fall 2018 in a bid to stoke business collaborations between a broad range of private and public organizations over five years.

The pandemic shook up those plans, with Ottawa mandating in April 2020 that all five of the nation’s superclusters were to redirect resources towards addressing COVID-19.

The DTS eventually closed out its pandemic-related investments to the tune of $60 million by August 2020.

The supercluster, which is open to organizations with a presence anywhere in Canada, estimated in January 2020 that its pre-pandemic initiatives would create more than 13,500 jobs and add more than $5 billion to the nation’s economy over the next decade.

The goal is to bolster private industry, non-profit and post-secondary collaborations on digital products that can be commercialized.

Projects must include a minimum of three organizations.

The consortia are to invest their own dollars into the projects, while the DTS matches up to 75 cents per dollar invested.

The supercluster’s backing of the Canadian Tech Talent Accelerator marks the first time it’s made a major investment in a national training program.

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