ICT is one of five priority sectors that present real opportunities for business growth and investment in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

Mala Kalra and Jennifer Liu, co-leads for the Halifax chapter of Ladies Learning Code – one of various initiatives underway to bridge the gender gap in ICT. (Photo courtesy Mala Kalra.)

Mala Kalra and Jennifer Liu, co-leads for the Halifax chapter of Ladies Learning Code – one of various initiatives underway to bridge the gender gap in ICT. (Photo courtesy Mala Kalra.)

ICT stands for information and communications technologies. The Valley REN is working on a strategy to develop this sector, along with agriculture, manufacturing, sustainable energy, and tourism. We are also working with other agencies to strengthen the regional workforce.

In this week’s blog, Emily Konrath (one of our two economic development officers) writes about developing the workforce in the ICT sector, by bridging the gender gap and encouraging more diversity.

On behalf of the Valley REN, I attended the recent screening of the documentary, “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap,” in Wolfville. Refresh Annapolis Valley organized the screening, which was followed by a panel discussion with experts from the ICT sector.

This event brought together a diverse crowd of high school and university students, local business owners, retirees, and others whose interest was piqued by the relatively unknown term, “coding”. With the Al Whittle Theatre filled with curious minds, the audience paid close attention to the documentary, letting out gasps and grunts as the film detailed the gender gap within the ICT sector.
We learned about an industry where sector development and job growth is rapid, where colleges and universities aren’t able to produce enough graduates to meet the job demand, and where girls and women not pursuing these opportunities. Yet the audience was full of young girls and women, as well as people with diverse backgrounds.
I’d like to believe this is a sign of positive change within the industry and the representation (or lack thereof) of women in ICT.
Yet, surely, there is more work to be done to bridge the gender gap and to create diversity within the ICT sector. So where does one begin? How do we, as members of society, move forward on initiatives and momentum built by events like those put on by Refresh Annapolis Valley?
Here are my thoughts:
It is becoming increasingly apparent that a shift needs to occur in the way young students are mentored. Cheering them on to make their own (smart) decisions is no longer enough. We (as in society, in all of its forms: educational institutions, businesses and business development organizations, parents, teachers, etc.) need to provide students with cutting-edge education and resources that are directly aligned with what the workforce is requiring.*
This is a tough job to do, considering many current Grade 6 and 7 students will have jobs that don’t exist yet!
And on top of that, Nova Scotia and even more so the Annapolis Valley need to retain our students and attract immigrants. It’s a tough job, but the Valley REN is up for the challenge!
Engaging in discussions with key stakeholders, and listening to their feedback, is a top priority for the Valley REN. Only then, through our evidence-based approach, can we tailor our approach to attracting, retaining, and creating a stronger workforce advantage.
We’d like to hear from you. What do you think? Where do you see opportunities for development of our workforce and what are the priorities for action?

(If you are interested in this issue, you can learn more here.)