Improved connectivity - Program helps people overcome barriers to success

As an immigrant to Canada who came from Argentina about seven years ago, Pablo Listingart has gained an oversized level of empathy for the challenges Indigenous people face in this country.

He’s been operating a non-profit free computer programming micro-learning service called ComIT primarily targeted at new Canadians for more than five years with the support of $1 million from Western Economic Diversification and participation from employers across the country.

Last year, he secured $250,000 in funding from Google Canada through its philanthropic division to focus on Indigenous students in a program called Recoding Futures that includes a free one-month introduction to programming courses and a three-month more intensive course (also free) to some of the graduates of the introductory course which includes assistance in resumé and interviewing skills.

Prior to Recoding Futures, ComIT delivered its courses to new Canadians in person across the country.

But because of the pandemic and the program’s desire to be accessible to Indigenous youth across the country, the instruction would be offered online.

Listingart knew there would be issues with availability of good internet service, especially in northern and remote communities, but he wasn’t prepared for how bad it was.

"I was worried about connectivity issues," he said. "I have some Indigenous students on reserves who sent me speed tests for their internet connections and the speeds were similar to what I experienced in Buenos Aires in the 1990s."

ComIT figured out all sorts of workarounds so that students located in broadband deserts could still enrol in the program. Every class is recorded and then emailed to students an hour after the class is over. Messaging protocols were set up so that students could reach out to instructors at any time of the day or night. Instead of linking into the class over Zoom, they could use their mobile phones and call in and then watch a recorded version of the class later.

He understood that with poor internet service people would get discouraged and frustrated.

He said the lack of connectivity in the community goes a long way to understanding why Indigenous people are underrepresented in IT.

"When people talk about the digital divide — and we should be talking more about that — people think about whether or not an individual has digital skills," he said. "Of course there is going to be a digital divide if the infrastructure is not there to support their will to learn."

But through the support of organizations like the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Indspire and the local professional Indigenous engagement service Amik, the program has been over-subscribed with more than 300 students having completed the one-month course and about 60 currently in the three-month program.

Sherman Kong, the CEO of Amik who has a lengthy history of successfully recruiting Indigenous candidates for positions with CN Rail, Great-West Life, Assiniboine Credit Union, Johnston Group, PCL Construction and Air Canada, said it looks forward to working on more creative initiatives with ComIT that advance the socio-economic prosperity of Indigenous people.

"Over the past year, Amik Inc. has developed a working relationship with ComIT and helped promote their courses in the Indigenous community," he said. "Our organizations share a common value of overcoming employment barriers to ensure Indigenous people have every opportunity to pursue a variety of career paths and participate in an economy which has been historically unwelcoming to them."

Mike DeGagné, president and CEO of Indspire, calls the program "a ground-breaking way to assist First Nations, Inuit, and Métis learners as they overcome historical obstacles."

The hope is that the graduates of the one-month introductory course would then go on to more intense training offered by ComIT or elsewhere. But Listingart said there has already been unexpected outcomes that are surprisingly positive.

"The thing that started happening is that so far one third who finished the one-month course have used that introductory knowledge in programming to actually build websites for things they want to do and to help their community," he said.

ComIT has a stellar track record of assisting graduates of more intense courses in finding employment. Last year, 300 graduates from about 15 courses found work and Listingart figures they should hit the same number this year. Some of them will be Indigenous students from the Recoding Futures program.

Original article: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/improved-connectivity-575434402.html
Author: Martin Cash

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