BC Innovator Skills Initiative receives $14 million in private investment, expands under-represented individuals support

BC minister of jobs Ravi Kahlon speaking at a presentation regarding InBC

The British Columbia government is expanding its Innovator Skills Initiative program to help under-represented people get their first job in the tech sector or in a tech-enabled role.

The expansion of the program will assist 3,000 people in joining the BC tech sector. At the same time, the initiative will aid many growing BC companies in filling in-demand technology roles.

“We have a lot more jobs than we do people, and part of this announcement is to help address that.”

“When COVID-19 swept the province, hardships fell disproportionately on many including Indigenous, Black, people of colour, youth, women and gender-diverse people, 2SLGBTQ+ and people from marginalized communities,,” said Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation.

“This program will help clear pathways for skilled, under-represented people who deserve meaningful, long-term employment that helps them support their families,” Kahlon said.

BC previously announced$15 million for the expanded program, while Innovate BC, Mitacs, and the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) are topping up the investment with another $14 million, to a total of $29 million.

Kahlon said BC is the only province in Canada where more people are working now than before the pandemic. The current unemployment rate in the province is 6.2 percent, Kahlon said. In August, unemployment rates in Canada were at 7.1 percent.

Kahlon noted a lower employment rate comes with its own set of challenges.

“We have a lot more jobs than we do people, and part of this announcement is to help address that,” Kahlon told BetaKit. “We have a saying out here in BC: We’re all in the same storm but we’re all in different boats. We know some communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

Kahlon noted the program is tailored to target groups who have felt the disproportionate impact of the pandemic.

“We want to ensure that part of the recovery is those groups that felt the biggest impact see a benefit from the improving of the economy,” the minister said.

While Kahlon said he didn’t have the exact number of tech positions in BC that are currently vacant, he called it “significant,” noting that Amazon announced a couple of thousand positions open in the province, along with Microsoft and EA Sports expansions.

Innovate BC encourages the development and application of advanced or innovative technologies to meet the needs of industry in BC, and is a provincial Crown Agency.

Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization supported by governments and academic institutions across the country that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

ICTC WIL Digital is an innovative work-integrated learning program that helps employers grow their businesses by providing financial assistance for hiring post-secondary students.

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“The Innovator Skills Initiative program will help support strong economic growth by placing thousands of people in technology focused jobs and helping businesses and nonprofits
Expand,” the province said in a news release. “ It will serve as a critical building block as government develops B.C.͛s economic plan that will help the province build toward a more innovative, sustainable and inclusive future.”

The Innovator Skills Initiative program provides B.C. companies with grants up to $10,000 per employee hired for technology jobs and tech-enabled roles. The grant covers a new employee’s salary for four months. There are 3,000 grants available. Organizations can apply for as many as 10 positions.

The program has been redesigned to provide employers with access to larger grants, doubling the previous maximum grant amount from $5,000 to $10,000 per employee to hire workers
who are either students or who already have industry-recognized credentials.

The redesign also makes the program more inclusive by prioritizing placements for people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and historically under-represented in the technology sector. Preference is given to employers hiring candidates who self-identify as Indigenous, Black, people of colour, women and non-binary people, 2SLGBTQ+ and people from under-represented communities.

The program redesign is a result of consultations with multiple stakeholders held by Brenda Bailey, parliamentary secretary for technology and innovation. Engagement sessions were held from May to July with 21 organizations that support under-represented communities.

Participants included the First Nations Technology Council, Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada, MOSAIC, Inclusion BC, HR Tech Group, and Ethos Lab, among others.

In addition, hundreds of surveys were distributed online to stakeholder organizations, industry groups and previous grant recipients.

As of April 2021, more than 1,250 people have accessed the Innovator Skills Initiative program.

These 3,000 new placements will bring the total to more than 4,250 program participants.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.