Recommended Watching: Alberta FIRST Jobs Program is solving tech sector's hiring conundrum

Alberta's growing tech sector is in an interesting situation: companies are growing and hungry for workers, while first-rate talent is graduating from Alberta's post-secondary institutions and looking for employment. Unfortunately, however, those two groups often can't always connect with one another.

That was the vexing problem that Technology Alberta found two years ago after conversations with business owners, according to the organization's president, Gail Powley. As she described in a recorded Tech Talk at the University of Alberta in July, the revelation came after a survey of around 100 Alberta tech companies in 2020, including those working in AI, machine learning and other sectors.

She said that tech companies in Alberta are actively hiring about 4000 jobs a year. The problem is students and new graduates often don't hear about them. Many companies in the province are in the start-up or scale-up phases and don't always have the HR or marketing resources to reach job-seekers.

"It's so easy to find the big Facebooks and Googles. But how do you find the very cool, innovative companies? These companies are doing great things, but they don't have the marketing budgets to market across the country."

That revelation led to the quick creation of the Alberta FIRST Jobs program. Using funding from the federal government's Western Economic Diversification, Tech Alberta created a program to help local companies hire students and the newly graduated in the province.

"[The Alberta FIRST Jobs program] creates networks now, it gives valuable experience now. It gives people hope."

Gail Powley

The program's first cohort, which took place from December - March 2021, provided funding to companies to support their hiring of young talent. The work was designed to be part-time and remote to allow active students to take part while still leaving them time for their schooling. In the first round, over 50 emerging companies from sectors like artificial intelligence, agriculture and health care took part.

Powley says they were stunned by the success - not only did companies end up hiring more students than was funded for, but she says that at the end of the Alberta FIRST trial, more than a third of the students received offers for continued employment.

For the students, she said that it showed them there was a lot of opportunity in the local tech centre, dispelling the notion that they'd need to leave Alberta to begin their careers.

"[The program] creates networks now, it gives valuable experience now. It gives people hope," she said.

The pilot program's success quickly led to more support; Powley said that Alberta FIRST has received funding for an additional three years, which should lead to placement for 300 students. Among the companies taking part in the expanded program, AI and ML-focused businesses have made a strong showing — StreamML, Clinisys, Painworth and Areto Labs have all signed up to take part.

To find out more about the program's origins and Alberta Technology's plans for the future, watch Powley's entire presentation.

Are you looking for a way to boost your AI career and connect with companies looking for your skills? Sign up for Amii's Career Accelerator today.

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