Initiatives seek to lift barriers for Indigenous Peoples in B.C.’s booming tech industry

Only 2.2 per cent of workers in the province’s tech workforce are Indigenous, but experts and programs are working to change that

Barriers exist between Indigenous people and access to technology in B.C., but those hurdles are slowly being lifted to increase representation in the booming tech industry.

Only 2.2 per cent of the Canadian tech workforce is Indigenous — according to a 2019 study from Ryerson University’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Michelle Malpass, vice president of community performance at tech company Traction on Demand, speaks on the need for tech programs to increase access to underrepresented groups.

Recently, her company partnered with MOSAIC, an employment service that supports newcomers and Indigenous people interested in entering the tech job force, but lacking in training. 

The Fast Track CRM program provides employability skills training, occupational skills, work experience, follow-up support and certification.

Malpass says she hopes that Indigenous people interested in a career in the tech industry will apply to the program. 

“Part of our challenge is trying to figure out how we can reach Indigenous Peoples,” says Malpass. “The greatest barrier is getting that entry training.”

Lawrence Lewis, the founder of Indigenous tech company OneFeather, says that there is no shortage of careers in his industry.

“It is probably one of the best career paths you can take,” he says.

Most software developers work remotely and at their own pace, he adds, which allows for quality of life, not to mention making five to six times the minimum wage at the base of an entry level position.

Lewis says accessibility and education remain key, however — and typically jobs require computer engineering skills and experience in areas such as website design/development and software testing.

Infrastructure a barrier to gaining tech skills

Denise Williams, the chief executive officer of the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC), points to the latest BC Tech Report Card which forecasts a huge shortage in the tech skills needed by the economy. 

“In that report, what they were defining as under-representation was representation from women, Indigenous, people who come into Canada and people with disabilities,” she says.

Part of FNTC’s mandate is to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have the right tools, education and support when it comes to tech. Williams says the shortage of Indigenous people in the tech industry can be blamed on poor infrastructure that exists in many remote communities.

She says 75 per cent of Indigenous people in B.C. don’t have access to reliable internet in their communities.

“So if you think about what that means for education, especially in a post-COVID environment, you’ve got a bunch of kids in the K to 12 and post-secondary system who not only don’t have access to the Internet — but they don’t have the hardware and the software to be learning from home like so many of us in the southern part of British Columbia,” Williams explains. 

“It’s really important that we focus on that infrastructure question.” 

Williams says the responsibility lies with the federal government — and that Indigenous communities must have say over how that access is provided.

“We might be able to really start to prepare our young people and future generations for this increasingly digitally-reliant and enabled economy which is what they’re seeing happening at an accelerated pace,” she says.

Keenan Beavis, considered one of Vancouver’s young up and coming Indigenous entrepreneurs. Photo by Longhouse Media Archives

Keenan Beavis, the founder of digital marketing company Longhouse Media, is one of those young people that is harnessing tech through business. 

Beavis is Cree and Métis on his mother’s side, and received a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of the Fraser Valley before starting his company.

While in university, Beavis did freelance work behind the scenes to get his company up and running. Now he is considered a role model for other young Indigenous peoples who might be thinking of getting into the tech industry. 

“With an understanding in tech, Indigenous people can be empowered to start a business, gain access to opportunity and share their stories,” he says.

“Education in technology enables innovation, economic development and connectivity.”

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