Elevate to receive $6.15 million in government funding for underrepresented tech workers program

Suleman onstage at Elevate TechFest.

Elevate is receiving around $6.15 million from the Government of Canada and the City of Toronto to support the non-profit tech organization in launching a new program focused on helping underrepresented communities find jobs in the tech sector.

“Increasing representation in Canada’s tech sector needs all the support we can generate.”

The funding includes $5.8 million from the federal government and $350,000 from Toronto, with the latter being an overall commitment to Elevate and a renewal of the same size of investment provided to the organization for its programming in 2020. The City of Toronto has previously provided annual support to Elevate since 2017, for its tech festival.

The more than $6 million helps create Elevate Talent, a development training program designed to reskill and place individuals in employment opportunities in tech and innovation-based sectors. In 90-day cohorts, it is set to support 5,300 job seekers from underrepresented communities, including Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQ+, and Francophone professionals.

Mélanie Joly, the minister of economic development and minister responsible for FedDev Ontario is set to announce the investment Monday morning alongside Toronto Mayor John Tory.

“We know that there’s a systemic issue with racialized communities not necessarily having access to rich, good-paying jobs in the tech sector,” Joly told BetaKit. “And, meanwhile, we know that the tech sector is really looking to fill a lot of the jobs that [it is] actually having an issue trying to fill. So, what we’re trying to do is really combine an issue and an opportunity together, and to make it, at the end of the day, good for everybody.”

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The program will provide skills training and match individuals with job openings in Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area technology and innovation-based organizations, startups and the creative industries. According to FedDev’s statement on the program, there are more than 70,000 open jobs in the Toronto and Hamilton area technology sectors.

A pilot program of Elevate Talent took place earlier this year and the first official cohort is set to begin in June. Elevate sees the new program as an extension of its 2019 Elevate Open House, which the organization said connected thousands of job seekers with employment in the tech sector. Notably, Elevate Talent is also the name of one of the tracks Elevate hosted as part of its annual tech festival.

“It is an important program, it will have an impact in neighbourhoods that are deeply affected by the pandemic.”
– Minister Mélanie Joly

Elevate is set to partner with around a dozen community, education and hiring organizations to deliver the Elevate Talent programming and ensure it includes communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Partners include Dixon Hall, a support service agency located in the heart of east downtown Toronto; BlackNorth Initiative; Latam Startups; OCAD University; Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Management; Scale Without Borders; TD Centre of Learning and Development (Regent Park); The Neighborhood Organization; and Women’s Multiculturalism Resource & Counselling Centre of Durham.

“It is an important program, it will have an impact in neighbourhoods that are deeply affected by the pandemic,” said Joly. “We know that the pandemic has infected some neighbourhoods more than others because a lot of people in the more affected neighbourhoods are front-line workers. And that is why … COVID-19 has been tougher on racialized communities … people that are not represented enough in the tech sector. Meanwhile, people in the tech sector didn’t lose their jobs. So, that is why I wanted to put this program into place.”

The Canadian tech sector has presented a positive opportunity for jobs as the unemployment rate in the country has remained high amid COVID-19 and its related restrictions on many sectors of the economy. A report from last year by the Innovation Economy Council (IEC) found that innovation companies create an outsized share of new jobs and grow at a much faster rate than the overall economy. Hiring opportunities in the sector continue to grow as domestic companies as well as international turn to Canadian workers to fill roles.

Underrepresented communities have been more heavily impacted by COVID-19, with recent data from Statistics Canada indicating that unemployment rates among visible minorities (9.4 percent) and youth aged 15 to 24 (14 percent) remain some of the highest of any group.

RELATED: Report: Underrepresented workers disproportionately impacted by layoffs amid COVID-19

“Increasing representation in Canada’s tech sector needs all the support we can generate,” said Razor Suleman, CEO and co-founder of Elevate. “We know there are roles to fill, and we also know we have untapped talent disconnected from opportunities. In 2019, we connected thousands of jobseekers with meaningful employment in the tech sector. Today, we’re excited to expand on that program and focus on groups that have been historically under-served. We have a lot of work to do so that our tech and innovation sector reflects the diverse makeup of our communities, and we’re thrilled to launch Elevate Talent to provide pathways to real jobs.”

Elevate Talent is the latest program the non-profit has launched in the last year after cancelling the fourth edition of its popular tech festival due to the pandemic. Elevate shifted its strategy and secured $5 million from the City of Toronto and other corporate partners to create an innovation hub. Elevate partnered with Toronto venue the Design Exchange (DX) to launch the Elevate Social Innovation Exchange (Elevate SIX), which offers year-round programming (Suleman is also the CEO of DX). Elevate also partnered with payment processing giant Moneris to launch eCommerce North, an accelerator for Canadian e-commerce startups.

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“We’re excited about Elevate’s future and the launch of several new programs designed to support our ecosystem,” said Karim Rahemtulla, managing director at Elevate. “When it’s safe to bring in-person events and festivals back, we look forward to using events to help enhance our new platforms and bolster Canada’s tech and innovation sector for everyone.”

The $5.8 million to Elevate Talent is also aligned with the federal government’s commitments in Budget 2021. The budget included upskilling to fuel the pandemic recovery as one of its top priorities with plans to launch the Canada Digital Adoption Program, which aims to create 28,000 jobs for young people and help up to 160,000 small to medium-sized businesses adopt digital technologies. Among other investments the budget proposed $1.4 billion over four years to ISED to provide Canadian businesses with access to skills training, microgrants to support tech adoption, and work opportunities for 28,000 young people to help SMEs adopt technology.

The budget also included promised for underserved communities, including the creation of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development Program, topping up the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and a new stream of the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) focused on underrepresented groups, such as women and racialized communities.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Senior Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.

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