By Kevin Peesker, President, Microsoft Canada
Crises have a way of accelerating trends already in motion, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Over the past 14 months, we’ve witnessed incredible digital transformation across all industries, impacting almost every corner of the global workforce and amplifying the already growing demand for skills in cloud, data and AI. By 2025, the innovation economy is expected to create an additional 149 million new jobs according to new research from the Information and Communication Technology Council of Canada (ICTC). There is an urgent need to close this digital skills gap to fuel Canada’s economic recovery and unlock tremendous potential that will enable Canadian businesses to thrive in the digital age.
Last month, Episode 3 of Envision, our digital series for business leaders, presented by Accenture, Avanade and Microsoft, explored the ongoing impacts from the pandemic including the global skills gap. In his keynote address, Brad Smith, President of Microsoft Corporation, underscored the need to think about broadband as the electricity of the 21st century. And while the need to invest in infrastructure is critical, digital transformation is about more than putting technology in the hands of people, it’s about equipping people with the digital skills they need to be successful. This is a cornerstone of our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more and is the reason Microsoft has been so focused on skilling in Canada and around the world.
RBC: Catalyst for digital literacy
Building Canada’s talent pipeline will take a collective effort from industry, policy makers and academia alike. Our collaboration with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Seneca College to provide a free Azure Fundamentals workshop for 6,000 students, graduates and current IT professionals is a powerful example of what can be achieved when we work together. As part of Canada’s regional breakout session at Envision, I sat down with John Stackhouse, Senior Vice-President in the Office of the CEO at RBC to discuss how the bank is acting as a major catalyst in skilling Canada’s digital workforce and innovation economy.
RBC has a substantial commercial AI operation in Canada and they are a major advocate for driving digital literacy. “The power of digital skills will not only create a stronger economy, it will also drive a more prosperous and inclusive economy in the years ahead,” said Stackhouse.
For RBC, the global pandemic demonstrated how every job across the organization requires a level of digital literacy to better serve its customers. Eighty per cent of RBC employees switched to a remote work environment in a matter of days, including thousands of call centre employees across Canada who facilitate conversations with clients 24/7. “For us, it’s been a big eye opener that work is going to be different. We’re not going back to the way things were, so we need to apply everything we’ve learned over the past 12 months to make sure we’re at an A+ level to thrive in the years ahead,” said Stackhouse.
A critical part of this success, said Stackhouse, will be the ability to combine and integrate those digital skills with “human” skills, like critical thinking, communication and collaboration. “We’re looking for people who have those ‘human’ skills that allow them to work with technology but also bring the strength of humanity into a tech enabled world. When you combine human strengths with tech strengths, pretty wonderful things can happen,” said Stackhouse.
Upskilling Canada’s workforce
As job roles continue to evolve with the adoption of innovative solutions, there are many opportunities for professionals to learn new skills and elevate their responsibilities. Last week, Fast Lane, a worldwide provider of advanced IT educations services, announced the Microsoft Azure Data & AI Academy. This new initiative offers comprehensive and free support for Microsoft customers and Canadian professionals interested in learning new skills and completing data and AI certifications. It’s a one-stop-shop with everything professionals need to get started on their digital career journey. In the past year, the program has helped nearly 6,500 users gain more knowledge and access to the cutting-edge technology areas of data science and AI.
The skills gap has been a persistent challenge in Canada, but we believe that digital technology and tools can play a central role in fostering a more inclusive skills-based labour market. In Canada’s 2021 Budget announcement, the federal government underscored the need to invest in digital transformation and local innovation to power a better, fairer and more prosperous future for the country. Now more than ever our government is calling on Canadian organizations to adopt digital solutions that bolster business resiliency, optimize operations and meet the evolving needs of Canadians. Canada will need a skilled talent pipeline to drive that innovation, and we as the technology community have an obligation to help provide access to those skills. As Brad Smith said at Envision, we have the opportunity to learn together, talk together and ultimately work together to put technology to use and make a difference in peoples’ lives. If you didn’t have a chance to attend Envision Episode 3, it’s now available on demand here: https://envision.event.microsoft.com/home