Addressing the “talent challenge” facing cities across Canada today extends beyond the capacity of any single level of government, educational institution, industrial sector or employer. Resolving that challenge in a rapidly changing world requires a community-level solution.
The drivers of prosperity have transitioned from a jurisdiction’s proximity to natural resources or access to markets to the ability to attract and retain as well as train people. The capacity to develop a workforce of talented people increasingly underpins economic and social prosperity.
As a country, we need to evolve our thinking on skills development and life-long learning to address the persistent shortage of qualified workers for the jobs that are available. With intense competition for top talent worldwide, working collaboratively to create local solutions is the surest way to long-term prosperity and opportunities for all in a community.
Calgary is facing this challenge head on. It is in the midst of transforming from being a traditional centre for energy, agriculture and transportation, to a city that is driven by innovation and digital transformation across all sectors of the economy.
Talent is a key driver of the future economy
The foundation that underpins that economic evolution is the ability to create a talent pipeline that will meet the needs of the future economy.
“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage,” Dutch business executive Arie de Geus memorably said. De Geus’ insight resonates particularly strongly in Calgary, since he was an executive with Royal Dutch Shell.
In a rapidly evolving global economy, Calgary remains a leader in energy and energy transition. But with Calgary companies to lead the $20-billion digital transformation spend in Alberta across all sectors from 2021 to 2024, the city has also seen the need to collaborate better to develop the workforce of tomorrow.
Talent is one of the five drivers of the economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy, produced by the non-profit organization Calgary Economic Development.
It’s notable that the biggest hiring announcements in the city recently have not come from the oil and gas sector but in tech. Infosys, the NYSE-tech giant, had 20 employees in Calgary when it announced a major expansion in March 2021. Today, it has over 600 employees, a major downtown presence and expects to have 1,000 employees in Calgary by 2024.
IBM Canada, AWS, Mphasis and RBC have also made major tech announcements, as have homegrown success stories like Neo Financial.
Like most major cities, Calgary has thousands of open tech jobs. Employers consistently say that attracting and retaining talent, particularly tech talent, is their No. 1 challenge.
Transforming the talent pipeline
One of the events that sparked a shift in mindset around collaboration on the talent pipeline in Calgary was the city’s much-publicized 2018 bid for the Amazon 2.0 headquarters. The key takeaway from the experience was Amazon telling us we had great tech talent for oil and gas but not the right tech talent for jobs of the future.
The community took the feedback and responded. The Government of Alberta provided financial support for a 65% increase in tech training spaces at local post-secondaries since 2018. But talent wasn’t going to be a challenge resolved with a single solution or path forward.
One initiative developed in 2019 to test new approaches to skills development is EDGE UP, the Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project, which has gained national and international acclaim. Calgary Economic Development partnered with Future Skills Centre on EDGE UP along with ICTC Canada, University of Calgary Continuing Education, SAIT, Mount Royal University, Bow Valley College and Riipen. The multi-week program equips displaced oil and gas professionals with in-demand skills such as software development, cybersecurity and IT product management.
More than 180 of the 320 participants in EDGE UP are working in jobs in tech or are continuing their education. It has been cited as a model for other Canadian cities to employ in a transitioning economy. The program was part of a case study in workforce transformation by the World Economic Forum.
The work that Calgary Economic Development is doing with post-secondaries and local employers to address the skills gap continues to grow. In 2022, we launched a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program with all seven post-secondary institutions in the city and dozens of employers.
The program, which has financial backing from both the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada, ensures local students get hands-on internship and co-op opportunities with companies in the city to start and grow their career here.
Looking forward as an adaptive LearningCITY
To help workers better understand the new world of work, a collective of organizations in the learning system developed a Calgary Skills Development Framework, engaging hundreds of employers, educators and policymakers to explore emerging labour market needs and potential paths to meet these demands.
The city’s next big step to address the talent challenge is called LearningCITY. It is a program to accelerate collaboration across the city’s vast learning system that includes over 3,000 organizations delivering more than 30,000 certified and non-certified learning experiences.
The goal is an empowered, community-level undertaking that will develop a set of competencies to allow people to better adapt to the skills needed in the changing work world and to align organizations to teach those skills.
LearningCITY, like all the initiatives Calgary is undertaking in the face of change, is an example of the collaboration and commitment to innovation that Calgary and all cities will need to develop lasting solutions to the talent challenge.