Home » Education » Creating Opportunities for Youth to Join the Digital Economy
Julia Blackburn

Julia Blackburn

CEO NPower Canada

stephen gardiner

Stephen Gardiner

Senior Managing Director, Strategy and Digital Transformation, Accenture Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered significant social and economic disruption and has taken an unprecedented toll on the health and well-being of vulnerable Canadian youth. It has been especially challenging for young people trying to enter the labour market and for those employed in low-wage jobs in retail or hospitality.

According to Statistics Canada, the youth unemployment rate in April sat at 16.1 percent, twice the national average. The data also shows that the unemployment rate for Indigenous, racialized or people with disabilities is similarly higher than the national average.

At the same time, Canadian companies are grappling with a skills gap – needing to hire more workers for tech-enabled roles. In fact, companies like Google, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Wattpad, and Shopify all announced plans to hire tech workers this year. 

We have an opportunity to intentionally create meaningful employment for marginalized youth, giving them the skills and access to participate in the digital economy.

Organizations like NPower Canada are already doing this work, and young people have successfully found sustainable employment in the tech sector through its reskilling/upskilling programs. Despite the pandemic, over the last 18 months NPower Canada has provided Canadian employers with over 1,000 diverse, custom-trained young hires to fill their tech roles. In fact, 89 percent of NPower Canada reskilling program participants are racialized or Indigenous.

Partnering for the future

Reports show that most companies are finding it challenging to hire skilled people.  With an outsized demand for IT talent skilled in cloud infrastructure, data analysis, and virtual technical support, NPower Canada has partnered with industry leaders Google and Microsoft to enhance its current programs and to design and pilot new curricula that equip youth with these in-demand skills.

In addition to providing recruitment and retention solutions for employers, NPower Canada partners with industry leaders to cultivate a more inclusive Canadian tech workforce. NPower Canada specifically serves low-income youth who face barriers to securing sustainable employment, including youth who identify as female or non-binary; Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth; new Canadians; LGBTQ2S+ youth; and youth with disabilities. Working closely with employers to prioritize diversity and inclusion when hiring and promoting talent, NPower Canada also ensures that youth who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic will have the opportunity to make a meaningful and measurable contribution to Canada’s economic recovery.

One of NPower Canada’s founding employer partners, Accenture, has hired nearly 100 NPower Canada graduates since 2015 for a wide range of technology roles. A great majority of those hires remain with the company today, showing very strong job performance and retention. Indeed, many graduates have earned promotions thanks to their skills, work ethic and growth mindset. Among these hires, more than half identify as female and most belong to racialized communities.

Accenture actively encourages other organizations in its networks to considering hiring skilled, diverse candidates from NPower Canada. By hiring for skill, character, and motivation over traditional pedigree, businesses can tap into great talent to help their businesses grow and thrive.

Going forward, NPower Canada will continue scaling its program nationwide to serve greater numbers of unemployed and underemployed youth, including youth who have lost employment as a direct result of the pandemic and those whose employment is at risk of obsolescence due to automation and other disruptive labour market forces. With programs currently running in Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, NPower Canada will begin offering its program in British Columbia this fall.

By adapting its programs to align with rapidly-changing sectoral needs, NPower Canada has continued to provide employers with a growing pipeline of custom-trained talent while equipping greater numbers of low-income, diverse young adults for a wider range of in-demand digital career pathways.

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