If there’s a general impression that BC’s indigenous communities are getting left behind as the west coast’s tech hub expands, there’s new pressure to include them by creating new opportunities. BC’s Indigenous Technology Talent Development Strategy is launching its first program, Bridging to Technology, The First Nations Technology Council announced this week. The BC government is providing funding of over half a million dollars, for scholarships for 40 participants in a professional development program focused on “coding, GIS/GPS, and Microsoft Office Specialist certification for advanced digital skills and professional development,” which will take place through bootcamps from Lighthouse Labs, a partner based in Vancouver.
“Supporting Aboriginal digital-skills development through programs like Bridging to Technology will help to increase the number of talented, Aboriginal professionals working in tech jobs,” says BC Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Amrik Virk. “Our #BCTECH Strategy will develop and attract the highest quality talent by introducing students to tech earlier, adjust training and education in post-secondary institutions and create work experience opportunities.”
“We know the timing for this strategy is crucial,” says Denise Williams, executive director, First Nations Technology Council. “We must seize the opportunity to better connect our communities, build the skills necessary to utilize technologies and create opportunities for everyone, especially our young people, to pursue careers in the technology sector.”
Lighthouse Labs Co-Founder Jeremy Shaki spoke more about how their program can help shrink the big gaps between technology education in First Nations communities. “Technology education can be part of a cultural shift for the indigenous community. It’s fascinating how we see that introducing technology can help sustain communities and even preserve culture and history – you think of cultures of north learning and re-learning the songs of their community through YouTube, communicating in all new ways.
Coding as a cure for lack of opportunity
Shaki notes that this program has been in the works for at least a year, as the FNTC took the lead in finding partners and funding. “When we were first approached, we looked at it and asked ourselves, do we believe in it?” he said. “Absolutely. Next, there’s a conversation with the FNTC about how they see it and how we see it because we want to do this right. Bootcamp is preparation for a second stage of perhaps continuing education, or getting a tech job in which you keep learning. We had to look at whether we were the right fit.”
After answering that in the affirmative, he speculated on the long-term prospects for the program. “Is coding a fad? When this program is really going full-throttle in five years, will we still need what we need right now? Are we just being reactive? Resoundingly, there’s a sense that there’s a long tail here and we’re only starting to see growth. I often say that technology is not an industry in itself but something that interacts with a whole range of other industries.”
Why is it that a government organization is coming to a for-profit bootcamp instead of a university? “Perhaps it’s because we’re more forward-operating with a bootcamp model, where we’re thinking about curriculum and programming with better balance in opportunity-cost and focusing on learning that’s based around a job. When you think about it, a lot of learning in coding and computers was always in an academic setting – and maybe we’re seeing that was the wrong approach. We’re trying to make a significant impact through our bootcamps to provide tangible outcomes.”