blog

Pivoting Careers into Calgary’s Digital Economy: Insights and Feedback from EDGE UP’s Cohort 1

By 28 September 2020 No Comments

With the graduation of EDGE UP Cohort 1 this July, ICTC’s Workforce Development Specialist, Sashie Steenstra, shares her notes on ICTC’s portion of the training and the feedback she received from the cohort’s participants.

Here is a summary of how EDGE UP (Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project) unfolded as COVID-19 took hold, starting with a brief description of EDGE UP and the historic context for the program.

EDGE UP

EDGE UP is a short-term skills development program to pivot laid off oil and gas professionals for employment in Calgary’s growing tech sector. The pilot is funded by the Future Skills Centre and led by Calgary Economic Development.

ICTC conducted the cohort intake to select candidates for the program and provided a three-week wrap-around work-readiness course. Applicants were given the choice of three program training streams: University of Calgary Continuing Education IT Project Management, SAIT Data Analytics or Bow Valley College Software/Full Stack Development. Riipen coordinated an applied learning “Capstone” project as well.

History of EDGE UP

The seeds for EDGE UP were planted in 2017, following a Calgary PivotTECH Conference. This one-day event hosted by Rainforest Alberta, Calgary Economic Development, and the Government of Alberta attracted nearly 1000 ICT professionals, new grads, entrepreneurs, startups, established major employers, post-secondary institutions, and workforce support organizations. Its aim was to inform the city’s talent pool about emerging opportunities in the digital shift. ICTC’s President and CEO Namir Anani was invited to present a keynote speech.

Addressing the audience, Anani cited ICTC research, estimating that Canada will need to fill 216,000 technology-related positions by 2021. He praised Calgary as one of Canada’s most innovative municipalities with its digital tech sector growth and added that Calgary is a “gold mine” for STEM-related tech talent. This much-needed optimism came at a time when Calgary was in the depths of recession, following a year of dramatic layoffs.

Building on these synergies, CED in collaboration with ICTC undertook a series of initiatives to evaluate the tech opportunities and transitional strategies for displaced oil and gas workers in Calgary. This included:

Following these initiatives, it became clear that turning these insights into actual training programs for displaced workers was critical to addressing the labour market needs in the region. In partnership with, and strong foresight from the Future Skills Centre (FSC), the genesis of the Edge Up program was born. The pilot program assembled several academic partners and developed industrial training to transition displaced oil and gas workers into in-demand tech jobs in Calgary.

Cohort 1: Dates and Numbers

ICTC conducted 76 intake interviews (from a total of more than a 1000 applications of interest over both Cohorts 1 and 2) for the first cohort of 49 EDGE UP participants. Courses started February 18, 2020, and concluded July 29, 2020.

ICTC created and delivered Transitioning to ICT Work, a wrap-around three-week work-readiness training course. The sessions provide a framework for identifying and developing career potential for in-demand ICT roles in Calgary, and includes:

  • The tools to make a career transition
  • Orientation within the digital economy and tech sector
  • A pathway to move from education to employment

Intake Notes: The Stress of Being Laid Off

All intake interviews for the first EDGE UP cohort were conducted by videoconference and were approximately 30 minutes in duration.

The applicants were eager to speak with the intake team, and it was noted by ICTC:

  • Approximately 80-90% of applicants indicated financial stress
  • Many participants shared stories of layoffs that involved being escorted out of buildings, in some cases being locked out of buildings without notice, and other insensitive layoff tactics

Therefore, ICTC felt it was important to provide a session on “Stress-Busting” offering simple but effective coping strategies to help participants manage stress and anxiety. These sessions were appreciated and received well.

IT Project Management (University of Calgary Continuing Education) graduates with ICTC’s Sashie Steenstra and Victoria Lenon

Intake Views: Participants in Their Own Words

“There are lot of displaced people in my field. I’m interested in how tech is moving forward. For me, it’s my well being as well. I’m looking at a shift in attitude.”

“Compensation is not just about a paycheque – it’s to find solutions for people. The challenge of accomplishing something.”

 On the skills mapping tool:

“Yes, it led me to Data Scientist and Data Analytics. Was useful—kind of nice to plug in something and have something pop out instead of having to sift through everything and figure it out by myself.”

“Very visual—strong suit. Using large amounts of data.”

“Favourite link you gave! The gap analysis tool was specifically useful—that thing is great! It gives a foundational strategy for filling the gap.”

ICTC’s Pedagogical Approach

Week 1 of the course was in-person, as planned. It was extremely well received, with close to 100% assignment completion, almost 100% attendance, and excellent engagement throughout.

A “flipped classroom” pedagogical approach was used in the delivery of ICTC work-readiness training. Participants were introduced to the material before class with access in their home environment through ICTC’s Learning Management System. This ensured class time was used to deepen understanding of concepts through small group discussion with peers and problem-solving activities facilitated by the instructors.

Several subject matter experts delivered sessions on Labour Market Information, Career e-Portfolios, and Stress management techniques. All sessions were of great interest to the participants as they were tailored to their needs.

 Participant Feedback from ICTC’s Course Week 1

  • “I found the quality of the feedback was excellent. The instructors obviously cared about us and our success and that really made these ICTC weeks extremely valuable.”
  • “All of it was really useful. Critiques of peoples profiles, resumes and cover letters were especially helpful. Class discussions were also very insightful.”
  • “Soft skill and One on One coaching section are the best help for my transition. They made me realized what I lacked and gave me tools helping me to improve.”
  • As part of her lay-off package, one of the participants was given six months of career support. She said she learned more in one week with ICTC than she did in her six months of previous career counselling.

Many participants also claimed that it was a “mind-shift” to go from a state of lack (lack of jobs, lack of confidence, etc.) to tech roles, where there are many open positions and career possibilities.

Quotes from the July Graduation Ceremony:

  • “It is fantastic, Namir, for you to put your stamp on this program. We need more role models like you to be the bridge for students to industry!” – Sharaz Khan, Associate Dean at Bow Valley College, Chiu School of Business – School of Creative Technologies
  • Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the FSC, in his remarks referred to Namir Anani, President and CEO of ICTC “a gift” to the tech ecosystem in Canada.

Conclusions

ICTC was extremely pleased with program delivery and the response to it from EDGE UP Cohort 1. Intake interviews went well, and ICTC strove to honour applicant program stream choices based on the skills mapping research.

In response to COVID-19, EDGE UP partners made contingency plans for program delivery. Program partners were nimble in their ability to switch to an online interface.

Cohort 2 is now underway with an expected end date of October 30, 2020.