Tackling the Skills Gap

  • Mara
  • 24 February 2017

We are re-republishing some of our Daily Gleaner articles from 2016. It's a good reminder of who we are, what we believe, and where we are going.

My last two columns provided some historical context on how Fredericton earned its global brand equity as a ‘smart city’ through diversification from a government/university town to a thriving knowledge-based economy.  The building blocks were significant investment in digital infrastructure, and building a ‘knowledge corridor’, known today at the Innovation District, anchored by Knowledge Park and the University of New Brunswick.

As I suggested last month, I truly believe that the knowledge industry is our equivalent to Alberta’s oil sands with such a large number of knowledge-based companies located in the Fredericton Region.  The continuous growth of this sector is what carried us through the recession, and is where we will see future growth and good paying jobs tomorrow.

As a mother, I can certainly relate to all the parents who worry about their children’s future in New Brunswick. This article is directed to the parents, policy-makers/politicians and educators, who are in a position to help shape and influence New Brunswick’s future.  This starts with early education - ensuring our children get the required skills to keep them on a path of realizing opportunities.

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand where the skill shortages are - just go onto NB Jobs to see the long list of unfilled positions - particularly related to the information technology sector.  The national Information & Communications Technology Council (ICTC) has stated that by this year, 95% of jobs will require digital skills, and there will be demand for 182,000 ICT jobs in Canada by 2019.  These are high paying jobs, which go on to support the economy and other sectors like retail and housing. 

So let’s stop the negative, doom and gloom chatter about lack of jobs.  There are lots of jobs and opportunities in New Brunswick; however, as parents, we need to steer our children in the right direction, and policy makers and educators need to ensure our children are being properly equip for the future workforce.

Fundamentally, we understand that literacy is number one.  A literate, young population paves the road for future success.  According to Elementary Literacy Inc., one in five New Brunswick children are falling behind in reading by the end of grade two.  Without educational intervention, these children are at-risk of ongoing academic challenges and are less likely to graduate than children who achieve grade two-level success.  Early intervention is key, and we need to ensure New Brunswick schools are equipped with the necessary support programs, resources and services.  With a solid foundation in literacy, students are able to later move on to more complex STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math), which opens a world of opportunity for our youth.

Secondly, let’s ask ourselves - what do New Brunswick children need education-wise to meet the increasing demand of a digital world?  With 106,000 unfilled tech jobs this year in Canada, innovation pioneer, David Alston, is on the right track, leading the Code Kids movement.

In 2013, Alston and René Boudreau travelled to Estonia and Finland to explore how these countries integrated coding and technology into their elementary education programs - creating a mega talent pipeline that has supported the booming growth of their information technology sector boasting names like Skype and Nokia.

The Code Kids movement and documentary helped kick off Brilliant Labs, which is an initiative designed to give educators tools and resources to offer coding in New Brunswick classrooms.

Here are a few useful links if you are interested in learning more:

Code Kids
NB Jobs
Brilliant Labs
Ladies Learning Code
Kids Learning Code
Hour of Code

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In future columns, we will be looking at other industries bubbling with innovation like natural resource development with $8.6 billion in projected investment for the mega projects pending approvals. These projects along with others will have a peak employment demand of 8,600 positions from 2017-18, and 28,000 by 2025. 

So parents, let’s look at where the opportunities lie, and steer our children towards the opportunities of tomorrow!