The government’s Digital Ambition program was announced by the Treasury Board in August with the stated goal, “To enable delivery of government in the digital age for all Canadians.As the federal government looks for talent to fuel its new Digital Ambition program and the private sector searches for those often-elusive tech employees, local experts are suggesting the need for a coordinated strategy. The government’s Digital Ambition program was announced by the Treasury Board in August with the stated goal, “To enable delivery of government in the digital age for all Canadians. This will be done by providing modernized and accessible tools to support service delivery that expresses the best of Canada in the digital space.” As part of the program, the government will be “developing skills for digital delivery, accessibility, data literacy and cyber security” and “attracting and retaining diverse talent for a digital-first workforce.” “The talent strategy will seek to access the best talent across Canada and take advantage of new hybrid ways of working and focus on increased inclusivity and diversity,” Catherine Luelo, Canada’s chief information officer, told OBJ. At the same time, fierce global competition for technology workers makes it difficult for private-sector businesses to recruit and retain high-tech workers. “Ottawa is a globally significant technology innovation cluster that has the potential to continue to grow as a powerful global economic engine over the next decade. However, its continued success is not a foregone conclusion,” said Jamie Petten, president of the Kanata North Business Association (KNBA). “Like its peer-leading innovation clusters around the globe, its continued success will depend on its ability to attract and retain knowledge workers; the increasingly scarce skilled and educated talent that constitutes the innovation economy’s most essential resource.” Shan Gu, founder of Ottawa-based Foci, a consulting firm that helps businesses get the most out of their high-tech talent, believes a national digital strategy would be a good idea. Gu told OBJ that this strategy must involve the public and private sectors working together to benefit everyone in Canada’s high-tech sector. “The federal government is competing with private industry for talent, so they better work with industry to understand how we approach talent,” Gu said. “Best case scenario, we’ll be able to fully collaborate and come up with some innovative solutions that will make the Canadian public service one of the strongest digital workforces in the world,” added Gu, whose company has worked with the federal government. Petten said the KNBA is positioning itself for a continued increase in competition for labour, the need to create a people and place “hub” with a dispersed global workforce, and the changing landscape of remote versus in-person and hybrid workforces. She said the KNBA would support a national talent strategy that goes beyond the federal government to encompass the private sector as well. Even though Kanata North is the largest technology park in Canada, it still struggles to attract the technology talent it needs. According to Petten, currently there are more than 1,600 job openings in a park where 540 companies employ 33,000 people. “What will distinguish us (in the bid) to attract competitive talent to the region? A series of compact nodes that support the critical mass of live, work, play, learn and innovate activities, by promoting the creative collisions of people that power new ideas,” Petten said. She described Nokia Canada’s recent announcement of its new mixed-use technology “hub” and Wesley Clover International’s plan to build a 30-storey tower attached to the Brookstreet Hotel as “just the beginning of this forthcoming transformation across the Kanata North technology park.” “We need to develop a roadmap to integrate all infrastructure and technology related to ‘smart cities’ in a mixed-use commercial and residential community,” Petten noted. Hans Parmar, spokesperson at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), said that, even though the new Digital Ambition program is focused solely on the public sector, the federal government has other programs designed to help the high-tech private sector when it comes to training and opportunities to foster high-tech talent in Canada. “While the talent portion of the Government of Canada’s Digital Ambition (program) is focused on internal skills acquisition within the public service, there is a recognition that attraction and retention of talent is also a key challenge for private sector firms,” Parmar told OBJ. One of these programs is the Canada Digital Adoption Program, which supports businesses with financial help to adopt digital technologies and helps facilitate access to young high-tech workers. Also, the organization Mitacs, which serves as a link between the private sector, post-secondary institutions and government, has access to a federal investment program of $708 million over five years. That federal funding will create at least 85,000 work-integrated learning placements that offer on-the-job learning in the private sector and support businesses to develop talent and grow.
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