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Over-educated and under-employed: Why we must tackle the digital skills crisis with ferocity

By Tom Moore 
Published: June 1, 2022
READ TIME: 4 minutes
As an Australian spending an extended period in Canada, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the economic optimism I’ve found here.

Speaking to Canadian businesses, economic experts and policy makers in recent weeks, I’ve found Canada has global horizons and a positive attitude towards investment, innovation and doing business. In many ways Canada is a pioneer in its approach to technology, which is going to define the global economy of the mid-twenty-first century.

But there are some serious problems coming down the line which threaten to bring this prosperity to a screeching halt – some of which are already here.

I speak to major employers in the technology sector every day and they all say the same thing: we can’t get the people we need to grow.

This ‘digital skills gap’ is well documented – and while the task at hand is mammoth, the good news is that bridging this digital skills gap is not as complex as it may seem. The solution is straight forward… but it’s one that will require a national paradigm shift. In essence, we need to overhaul the way we think about ‘skills’.

For instance, we know hundreds of thousands of Canadian students go through university each year, often in fields unrelated to the needs of the economy. Put bluntly, it is a country that is over-educated and under-employed. While it’s admirable that so many people go to university, how many of them graduate with the skills the economy actually needs?

Part of the problem is that current employment methods – which typically assess candidates solely on CVs and interviews – are not keeping pace with society’s needs. These outdated methods simply describe a person’s past without any thought to their future potential – which in turns feeds this dangerous trend of over-education.

Contrary to common belief, proficiency in the digital skills that will fuel our economy – for positions like cyber, analytics and JavaScript – does not require three years of study and a mortarboard.

This is where technology itself becomes the solution. My company, WithYouWithMe, created the Potential platform, which is the world’s first – and only – end-to-end talent pipeline system.  By creating a data-led employment tool that steps employers through a process of discovery, training and deploying talent, we produce high-performing individuals and teams.

Key to this is an ‘ethical AI’ model, which uses psychometric and aptitude testing to assess potential and match skills to digital careers.  It doesn’t matter what university you went to, or if you went to university at all. If an individual has the aptitude and attitude that’s right for a digital career, we can train them to be proficient in under 150 hours.

We deploy this approach with many of the world’s leading defence and government agencies and business to provide them with the talent they need to ride the digital wave. We put underserved and overlooked groups who fly under the radar with the old CV and interview approach into good jobs – groups like ex-military, the neurodivergent, refugees and indigenous people.

Supporting these groups into employment not only creates a more diverse workforce and positive social impact – it delivers dividends into government and business. For example, veterans are often overlooked and underemployed, yet come with the skills and aptitude to quickly upskill for in-demand digital careers like cyber security and data analytics. They also have security clearance – which is helping military agencies – from the Canadian Armed Forces here, to the Australian Army and UK’s Ministry of Defence – ensure they have the right skills in place to meet demand.

For my part, I was an infantry officer in the Australian Army until a few years ago, so I know first-hand the struggles of pursuing a career without the right ‘traditional’ background, in spite of all I and others like me have had to offer.

Since launching, WithYouWithMe has helped more than 20,000 people into the tech industry by focussing on their potential, not their past. We’re helping keep the middle class alive by taking the working class and upskilling them into better jobs, which should be the ambition. People aren’t commodities and workplaces need to stop thinking of individuals as “resources”. It’s about human asset creation and understanding how we can make people and organisations mutually successful. Make that change and you turn around the skills crisis.

I don’t want to pretend that companies like us are the only answer to the question of how to develop Canada’s growing industries. The point is, government, industry and other policy makers need to be more imaginative than trotting out the same old solutions such as revisions to school curriculums and new qualifications for school leavers.

If Canada is to continue to prosper in the industries of the future and provide high skilled, well-paid jobs across the whole country, it must think big and be fierce about how it finds, assesses and develops the talent of the future. And that starts with changing how you think about ‘digital skills’.

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