More than 3,000 people from under-represented groups throughout the province will have more opportunities to join B.C.’s booming tech sector with the expansion of the Innovator Skills Initiative program.
The program will see the B.C. government partnering with Innovate BC, Mitacs and the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) to provide grants to businesses and non-profits to help under-represented people get their first job in the tech sector or in a tech-enabled role.
This initiative also helps businesses and non-profits facing skill shortages to grow.
“We are building an economy that works for everyone – one that is sustainable, innovative and inclusive of all British Columbians. 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. “At the same time, many B.C. companies are growing and need help filling in-demand technology roles. This program will help clear pathways for skilled, under-represented people who deserve meaningful, long-term employment that helps them support their families.”
The Province’s investment of $15 million is being supplemented by the partners, bringing the total investment into the Innovator Skills Initiative program to $29 million.
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 2021 to July 2021 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.
“I want to thank everyone who provided invaluable input to the Innovator Skills Initiative program redesign. With your expertise, we have created a program that will help more people become part of our strong, innovative and inclusive technology sector with career starts that can lead to permanent, good jobs,” Bailey said. “With the program changes in place, B.C. companies will have an easier time accessing the program and quickly putting new employees with the right technology skills in place. By consulting with businesses and people from marginalized communities, we have created a program that will help strengthen the diversity of the tech sector.”
Applications are open until spring 2022 or until the funds are disbursed. Positions may be available throughout British Columbia and are dependent on the businesses that apply for the grants.
“Technology is needed for most companies to expand and reach new markets. The Innovator Skills Initiative can help B.C. businesses hire the technology workers they need to move forward,” said Raghwa Gopal, president and CEO, Innovate BC. “The program also gives participants valuable paid experience that can lead to a long-term job within the same company or open a door to another job opportunity.”
The Innovator Skills Initiative program will help support strong economic growth by placing thousands of people in technology focused jobs and helping businesses and non-profits expand. 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.
Namir Anani, president and CEO, ICTC –
“ICTC is thrilled to partner with the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation on the Innovator Skills Initiative program. This pivotal partnership will expand upon ICTC’s WIL Digital program to provide businesses in B.C. with added financial support and will be instrumental in acquiring innovation-ready students for tomorrow’s economy. This is particularly critical for accelerating British Colombia’s digital-led economic recovery in an increasingly global and competitive landscape.”
John Hepburn, CEO and scientific director, Mitacs –
“Mitacs is pleased to support the redesigned B.C. Innovator Skills Initiative program. Ensuring that under-represented groups are given the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in innovative sectors is critical to providing a more equitable post-COVID-19 economic recovery and to building a brighter future for B.C. and for Canada.”
Ben Walter, partnerships and growth specialist, Pocketed –
“As a small business with limited cash flows, it is an ongoing challenge to grow our team and make progress on innovation initiatives. The Innovative Skills Program supplied us with the resources needed to break past this financial barrier and connect with brilliant talent, like Avery Noonan, who we likely couldn’t have worked with otherwise. We are grateful for the many doors this funding has opened.”
Avery Noonan, data engineer, Pocketed –
“The Innovative Skills Program allowed me to explore career opportunities in tech outside of academia; a transition that can be a challenge for many graduate students. Not only was I able to land the initial internship with Pocketed, but I was able to secure ongoing employment and still work with the company today.”
Businesses interested in applying for the Innovator Skills program can apply here: https://www.innovatebc.ca/programs/hiring-grants/innovator-skills-initiative/
To learn more about the Innovator Skills Initiative, eligibility criteria and to apply, visit:
To learn more about Innovate BC, visit: https://www.innovatebc.ca/
To learn more about Mitacs, visit: https://www.mitacs.ca/en
To learn more about the Information and Communications Technology Council, visit: https://www.ictc-ctic.ca/
To learn more about Information and Communications Technology Council’s WIL Digital program, visit: https://www.wil-ait.digital/en/
A backgrounder follows.