By: Alexandra Cutean
Explore. Experiment. Fail.
These are the words that circulated amidst a crowd of innovators, educators, change-drivers and youth one September evening in Vancouver.
SAP is one of the pillars of Vancouver’s tech community. Regularly the host for educational workshops, announcements, and other events, on the evening of Wednesday, September 12th Let’s Talk Science and SAP hosted a panel comprised of digital revolutionaries across the country and around the world. Moderated by Founder & President of Let’s Talk Science, Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, the panel came together to discuss an issue that is on the minds of governments and industry around the world: what will our digital future look like, and how can we equip our talent with the skills they will need to thrive under it?
Perhaps no better way to kick off the evening, astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk first took the stage, describing his personal pathway to landing a job that many 10-year old versions of ourselves also aspired to. It was nothing short of an amazing experience to look around the room and see the eyes of grown adults light up with excitement as he described his voyage into space. And earlier that day, Dr. Thirsk recanted feeling the same excitement, as some of Vancouver’s brightest middle school students showed him how they used technology to monitor C02 levels in their classrooms. For those of us who spend the entirety of our time on Earth, this is a skill that is essential for anyone taking a trip to the International Space Station.
Following Dr. Thirsk’s introduction to the evening, Namir Anani, Patricia Garland, Kirsten Sutton, David Lapides and Gareth Stockdale took the stage for an interactive panel moderated by Martha Jez, exploring the opportunities and challenges of preparing talent for the digital future. With tentacles to K-12 digital skills training, post-secondary curriculum development, and the increasingly popular notion of continuous skill upgrading and development, stories went around the room of how people first became engaged with technology. One was about a young student’s mother challenging him to look at his struggle with motorizing a toy car from a different perspective; another was a woman’s parents instilling in her the notion that she was no less capable than a boy when it came to math, science and technology – fields that women are still only marginally represented in today. These experiences, although different and unique, were vital in solidifying one central theme as we venture into our shared digital future: the need for a curious, flexible, and open mind.
While these are not new concepts, they are ones that despite their utmost importance, can sometimes get overlooked in the race to find the schools with the best Computer Science programs, or the most popular programming languages of the day. More, as we navigate a time where technology is developing and scaling so quickly, understanding the skills that are needed both today and tomorrow can be anything but a straightforward path – and the road will inevitably be one with twists and turns along the way. However, some important resources are available to shed light on the journey. Officially launched on September 12th, ICTC’s Digital Literacy Roadmap Navigator is one of those tools. A national guide for educators, industry, government and individuals, the interactive roadmap showcases critical foundational and complementary skills to digital literacy. This is but one example of a way to illuminate a path that for many, may seem riddled with roadblocks and challenges. And more importantly, it is a resource that can help shape the mindset where digital literacy and adoption is something accessible to everyone. The roadmap was built with thanks to our National Leadership Taskforce on Education and Skills, along with leaders from industry, education and government.
Of course, this change can come in different forms – and for our youth, it is critical to instill not only digital literacy but digital relevance from an early age. Part of this work needs to be done before children graduate and begin their post-secondary journeys. Programs like ICTC’s Digital DASH and the Let’s Talk Science Challenge offer students the chance to engage their digital skills in a hands-on way before graduating from high school. Once engaged, the concept of relevancy is also important – that is, showing students how digital will play a key role in their futures. One example is ICTC’s Focus on IT (FIT). A nationally-recognized certificate program, FIT provides Canadian secondary students with the opportunity to gain essential digital and business skills while completing their diplomas. Programs like these are essential because they challenge the notion of education as preparation for a specific job. Instead, they re-focus the role of education as a builder of foundational skills, competencies and most importantly, the fluid mindsets necessary for the digital economy of tomorrow.
At the end of the day, Canada is a small country; and the demand for skilled talent far outweighs our current availability of supply to fill it. Equitable access and the inclusion of all human capital streams into the conversation is critical, and programs like the above are only a few examples of stepping stones towards this vision. Whether it’s the 7th grader who is unsure of how coding can play a role in her future dream career as a symphony orchestra cellist; the English post-secondary graduate with no specific digital training; or the colleague with a mobility disability, who would love nothing more than to design the next edition of Call of Duty – these are all valuable, essential and relevant supply streams that must play a role in shaping tomorrow’s future.
So, be bold. Explore, experiment, fail, fail, and fail again. And do it because in a digital future that celebrates curiosity, flexibility, and creativity: inevitably, you will succeed.
About the Author: Alexandra Cutean is the Director of Research & Policy at ICTC.