New tech training program aims to address developer shortage

Pablo Listingart spent years working for some of the world’s largest technology companies in his native Buenos Aires before quitting to help others find jobs in the Argentine software sector.

Over the last seven years, his charity has trained hundreds of South American computer programmers. Now, two years after coming to Canada, ComIT is launching its first course in Saskatoon.

“We want to help people who want to not only provide for their families, but also have a good job that allows them to continue to study, to do more in their life,” said Listingart, who now lives in Winnipeg.

While universities and colleges provide training in computer science, there are financial and other barriers to entry — barriers ComIT works to break down, he said.

“Sometimes, when you have a survival job, you just do your work and you provide for your family and that’s it — you can’t think about going to university or college or other courses.”

The three-month pilot project is tailored to the needs of local technology companies and funded by the provincial government, through its Innovation Saskatchewan agency, to the tune of $20,000.

It’s part of a broader strategy to address a significant problem facing the province’s tech sector, which grew by 57 per cent, or about 535 jobs, between 2011 and 2016. The problem is a persistent shortage of software developers.

While the number of open positions fluctuates, it is thought to be between 100 and 300 in Saskatoon alone — enough to lead the provincial government to start work on a new computer coding curriculum.

The project will be evaluated after it concludes, but ComIT’s track record suggests the three-month pilot will provide a good return on investment, Innovation Saskatchewan CEO Wes Jickling said.

The prospect of allowing people to jump to better-paying jobs will benefit not only them and their families, but the local companies that are eager to hire developers and expand, Jickling said.

Dan Simair, who co-founded SkipTheDishes Restaurant Services Inc. before selling the company for $200 million in 2016, said he looks forward to teaching the course three times each week.

“These are people who are looking to improve their lives, and they’re excited to be there. Helping people like that is fantastic,” Simair said.

SkipTheDishes was one of the first Canadian companies to take note of Listingart’s efforts. Simair said the firm committed to bring on ComIT students as interns, some of whom were ultimately hired as full-time developers.

Listingart said ComIT already has letters of intent from several Saskatoon-based technology companies interested in offering internships to the program’s graduates, and hopefully hiring them later as permanent staff.

“They are all having issues recruiting people … They are talking about going to different countries to hire people (but) it’s just a matter of retraining the people who are already here.”

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