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OCIF alum NPower sets companies young Calgarians up for success

Photo credit: NPower Canada

As the world continues to move to a digital economy, companies are increasingly aware it is people who drive the advances in tech and there is a constant search for tech talent to keep up with the shift in how companies do business.

In Calgary, a number of micro-credentialling training programs have emerged in recent years to help companies address the tech talent gap while also assisting Calgarians at all stages of their careers to transition to jobs in tech.

One organization that has carved out a niche for itself helping traditionally underserved youth in Calgary to get started in careers in technology is the 2019 Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF) funding recipient NPower Canada.

“There are many employers in Calgary and across Canada struggling to fill entry-level IT positions right now. There are also many talented and capable young people that lack the skills or resources to access successful careers, which really limits their opportunities,” says Lisa Moon, Regional Director – Alberta, NPower Canada. “What we want to do is to match the two together and provide opportunities for success on both sides.”

NPower Canada opened its doors in downtown Calgary with $100,000 in support from OCIF in 2019. The four-month digital skills training and employment program provides youth between the ages of 17 and 30 training they need to kickstart a career in tech at no cost.

The organization also works closely with tech companies to ensure the programming is up to date with industry needs. This means the talent coming out of the program is always well-equipped for the ever-changing workforce.

“With technology evolving so quickly, it can be difficult to find enough talent to meet the needs of our clients,” says Tasha Westerman, Executive Vice President, People Services at Calgary tech firm Long View Systems. “Organizations like NPower are really helping fill that gap. They listen to our needs, alter their programming, and are able to reskill or upskill people that we can then hire into those positions quite quickly, which benefits us.”

It’s not only digital skills that make a great employee. NPower Canada also works with partners across industries to sharpen students’ soft skills, work on resume building and interview preparation and understand workplace culture. All these factors contribute to creating well-rounded candidates who will excel in the workplace.

“Technology skills are important, but there are a lot of other factors that matter as well,” Westerman says. “Is this person passionate about what they're doing? Can they learn quickly? NPower works on these skills on top of the technology piece, making its students more employable.”

NPower Canada’s focus on underserved youth is another aspect that makes it uniquely beneficial to employees, especially as companies are looking to be more equitable, diverse and inclusive.

“We, like the rest of the world, have done some internal reviews of our company when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion and identified areas we’re happy with and others where we need to do better. NPower is helping us by giving us access to more diverse talent,” says Westerman. “More diversity brings better decision-making and different thoughts to the table. We want to be better and faster and have the best people. For that, we need a diverse workplace. We have a number of initiatives in place to achieve this already, and NPower is helping us with them.”

NPower Canada is also looking at strengthening and expanding partnerships and is now working closely with Indigenous communities on the best ways to engage and support Indigenous youth in finding technology-focused careers.

“Representation matters. Indigenous peoples don't see themselves having a future in tech because they don't see themselves in tech often,” Moon says. “There's lots of work we can do going forward with Indigenous communities in more meaningful ways that are of value to them. We know that that doesn't happen overnight, but it is something very important for us to work on.”

The success of NPower Canada’s program is evident in the numbers. The two most recent cohorts (May 2021 and December 2020) have seen 82 and 88 per cent of graduates either find employment or pursue post-secondary education. Since opening in Calgary (its second Canadian location – the first being in the Greater Toronto Area) two years ago, it has provided tech training for almost 400 Calgarians.

Numbers aren’t the only measure of success. Growth and expansion of its programming is another benchmark for the organization.  

“Originally, we began by offering an entry level program in partnership with Google for people with no or limited tech experience,” says Moon. “We realized we had a lot of people applying for our program that had increased skills. So, we also partnered with Microsoft and developed our Junior Data Analyst program for individuals with more intermediate skills, experience in the workplace, or post-secondary training with a strong focus on the Microsoft platform. Support from industry leaders like Google and Microsoft has enabled us to double in size and really provide opportunities to youth who need it most.”

Leul Abebe was a member of the first cohort in the Data Analyst program launched in January 2021. He is confident the program not only helped set him up for success in his current career but will continue to help him advance his career in the years to come.

“NPower is invested in your success, and even after you graduate, they give you a lot of opportunity to widen your skills base,” Abebe says.

The organization supports graduates for five years following their completion of the initial program. It offers both professional and personal development courses, one on one sessions with industry experts, and other resources its alumni can use to advance their careers.

NPower Canada’s future is bright, with plans to expand its programming across the country. Expansion is already underway, including in Alberta, with the courses opening up in Vancouver, Halifax, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Edmonton. It’s news that’s exciting not only for NPower Canada, but its partners as well.

“We hope that NPower continues to expand, because anywhere we are, we would love to be hiring NPower graduates,” says Westerman. “We also hope to continue to work with them on new streams and new programming that will respond to the technology needs of Long View and the environment we're in. This work not only benefit us, but everyone in the Calgary community and beyond.”

“I'm really excited about the growth and being seen as the go-to training organization for people who never imagined themselves in technology,” says Moon. “So many of our participants are hesitant when they first begin the program, often because they have little to no technical experience. It really is amazing to me to see how they blossom over the 15 weeks. For them to realize that they can have a career in the world of technology is life changing for them.”

Abebe has one message for anyone thinking about signing up for NPower Canada.

“You get so much support throughout the course and five years after. If you think you don’t have the skills or the time – trust me, the NPower team will try to accommodate you and will work with you to get your skills where they need to be. The instructors are top notch and go above and beyond to support you. Do it. Why wouldn't you?”

The Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund was launched by The City of Calgary in 2018 to support investments that spur growth and create jobs in strategic sectors identified in the economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy.

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