It Takes A Village

How exposing youth to coding and technology can transform communities. A discussion with Patrick Hankinson, entrepreneur and co-founder of Compilr.

Weymouth is a small village in Digby County, Nova Scotia. It’s home to picturesque clapboard houses that still have their victorian charm as they sit on the banks of the Sissiboo River. To outsiders looking in this once thriving shipbuilding and lumbering community is like many in Atlantic Canada that have been riddled with industry hardship. Few would consider towns and villages like Weymouth to be an ICT incubator...especially 20 years ago.

“I couldn't imagine being where I am

Patrick Hankinson, entrepreneur and co-founder of Compilr, a Halifax startup that

today without being exposed to computer programming at a young age” shared focused on teaching people how to code. Patrick and his siblings were exposed to business and technology at a young age. Their father was a familiar face in town as the owner for the local car

dealership and gas station. He was up and out of the house early most days

showing the work ethic required to run the

business. The children got the sense that

business ownership had its challenges,

but was rewarding nonetheless. Their

father exposed his kids to another

valuable piece of their impending future -

the idea that technology is fun. “Dad

loved tech. We always had a computer in

the house and our family even hosted the

village's first internet service provider on

top of our garage.” Their mother also had

a knack for seeing opportunity as she ran

a daycare that soon needed to expand.

We asked Patrick what he thought of

this early introduction to technology and business: “It was a good mix. Our parents showed us the benefits of running your own business and fortunately for me I was exposed to computer programming by my older brother, Stephen, who was self-taught. By learning from him I was able to publish a video game at a young age, build two multi-million dollar businesses, invest in 15 other technology businesses and support the technology ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. Unfortunately, most kids in Atlantic Canada don't have that ‘mix’ and an older brother who is well-versed in programming.... and willing to teach it.” Patrick shared his vision for future communities, “We need to support digital literacy by offering educational support for students and their teachers. I’m a big supporter of project-based learning initiatives, coding, maker education, technology-specific training and a big part of that is community outreach and engagement practices. Without this exposure, rural youth could miss out on future opportunities. More and more companies are hiring remote workers, but without digital literacy support students could miss out on these jobs."

As we move into the 21st century, more and more rural, even urban, communities will be faced with the challenges of a changing technological landscape and global economy. “Realistically, not every child will have early exposure to technology, knowledge and support, but without exposure to information and communication technology (ICT) skills, our youth stand less of a chance to realize their innovative talents.

These skills are extremely valuable for our youth. They are transferable between industries and have the ability to transform communities” explained Ed McGinley, CEO TechImpact & Information and Communication Technology Council of Canada (ICTC) committee member.

Communities are not the only ones feeling the global crunch. Across Canada, universities are not seeing enough people entering computer science or ICT focused programs. Dr. Ruth Shaw, Computer Science Professor at UNB Saint John says that “attracting students to computer science at the post secondary education level starts at the junior high. We have been partnering with Brilliant Labs to offer the annual NB SCRATCH Programming Finals to this age group since 2014. Another outreach event that has had great success is our annual NB High School Programming Competition. We have offered this event every spring since 2007 and, last year, close to 50 students from across the province participated. Many of these students do go on to take a CS degree (~20% per year) so we have anecdotal evidence that these outreach activities do help in recruiting students to CS programs. But this is not enough. By implementing coding into the K-12 school system we could be reaching many more students at a much younger age and, hopefully, increase the diversity of students entering an ICT career. Plus, representation of females in the STEM fields is dismal, sitting at around 25% for mathematics, computer science and IT. Universities, colleges, federal funding agencies (NSERC) and industries are trying to reverse this trend. Our schools could play a major role in this effort and the ICT industry would benefit from a more diverse workforce.”

The New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) agrees and is taking steps to support youth early with the hope of increasing interest and enrolments in its Information Technology programs. Dr. Diane Burt, Director of Applied Research and Innovation at NBCC, believes that engaging youth in ICT experiential learning and applied research activities will open doors to many opportunities for further education and career development. “NBCC has a strong history of creating opportunities youth to explore and experience new fields. By reaching out to young people through our College 4 Kids Summer programs, the My NB 150 youth conference and by volunteering in local schools, we’re helping these young students discover and develop skills in fields new to them, such as IT.” “In fact, in collaboration with Brilliant Labs, Dr. William McIver, Jr., our NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Mobile and Ubiquitous Computing, is currently developing a novel program for pre-secondary students that integrates elements of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) subjects with fun and practical applications to projects based on their own interests,” added Dr. Burt.

A recent 2017-2021 Information and Communication Technology Council of Canada (ICTC) report cited there are approximately 811,200 ICT professionals in Canada. By 2019, the ICT industry will require an additional 182,000 workers, with Atlantic Canada needing approximately 11,000 professionals to fill industry needs. “ drivers such as Artificial Intelligence, 5G Mobile, Virtual & Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, and Blockchain are all radically redefining the skills needs of tomorrow. The rise of the gig economy is now also reshaping the employment landscape into a more autonomous, freelance, and a globally mobile workforce. In 2016, 53% of all ICT professionals in Canada were working in non-ICT industries which indicates an increased prevalence of technology across all sectors of the Canadian economy. By 2021, the proportion of ICT workers who are working in non-ICT industries will increase to 84%.”

We asked Ed McGinley what that means for the everyday job seeker:

“the lines between ICT jobs and more traditional occupations have been blurring for several years. The “blur” is now happening at an increased pace. Gone are the days of expecting your “tech person” sort all your technology issues and explain every implication of a tech adoption. In order for companies to remain competitive, there is increasing pressure on every employee to understand technology in the workplace. Less than a decade ago you didn’t need a firm understanding of computers or their languages to work in marketing, television, or the grocery store, but as we move further into a digital environment we will need more and more skilled people who understand various forms of technology and who can work with forever evolving programming languages.”

The ICTC paper also reflects on the trend of fewer youth entering the ICT workforce compared to those nearing retirement. "The hyperconnected landscape continues to reshape the future of work by 2021. While the quest for skilled digital talent is increasingly borderless, nurturing a robust youth talent supply in Canada remains a priority for enabling a strong foundation of digital innovators." reported Namir Anani, ICTC President & CEO.

This borderless talent supply could work in the favour of small towns or urban centres that recognize this changing ICT landscape. Digital literacy can start at home, in the classroom, or in a community hall. The goal is to expose Atlantic Canadian children early no matter which village, town, or city they live in. Patrick echoed these sentiments "In my opinion, we're not seeing ICT talent because students just don't know they have options outside traditional professions. One of the greatest things about ICT related employment is that staff can work from almost anywhere. It’s the perfect opportunity for rural communities that have a strong ISP infrastructure. If companies need ICT services they can find them anywhere in Canada or beyond. That's why I appreciate and support Brilliant Labs. They work with teachers, communities, local organizations and students whether they're downtown Halifax or in a small town like the one I grew up in. Together, we can truly change the region - one community at a time."

Find this article and more in Brilliant Labs Magazine

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