Non-profit gives students a chance in IT sector

A passion project geared at supporting the information technology industry is growing into a multinational charitable organization.

Pablo Listingart is the founder and executive director of ComIT, a non-profit organization providing free digital employment skills training to interested students in six cities across Canada, including Winnipeg.

The 38-year-old from Whyte Ridge founded the charity in 2011 in his home country of Argentina, after working for a dozen years in the information technology sector, including stints at Microsoft and IBM.

Listingart said the charity was his way of giving back to society and a solution to the skills gap that exists in the industry. In its first year, Listingart was the sole instructor, developing the curriculum and providing courses without the support of donors or taking a salary.

"It was a lot of work but I loved it and people started getting jobs," he said. "It became a kind of drug when you receive an email from a person saying you changed my life and you helped me get a job, so I kept doing it for four years."

In 2015, Listingart and his family immigrated to Manitoba and after serving as the "remote executive director" of ComIT in Argentina for two years, he decided to bring the non-profit to Canada, with support from various donors, including Google.

The first Canadian ComIT course was in Kitchener, Ont. in 2017. Listingart paid his teacher’s salary out of his own pocket, while a donation from Google covered the cost of the space. In 2018, with more support from industry, Listingart ran seven courses, five of which were in Winnipeg, and this year, there are 17 courses with 15 paid instructors, and about 350 students across six Canadian cities: Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Kitchener, and Toronto.

Eshan Kanwar, 31, is one such student taking Listingart’s program in Winnipeg. The customer service and technical support representative from Skip The Dishes heard about the course through a colleague in the industry and thought building his resume couldn’t hurt.

"Knowing that the world is shifting towards IT and every company needs an IT department, that means there are more job opportunities," he said.

Kanwar, who has formal engineering education in India, said the significance of the evening classes, allowing him to keep his day job, and the reduced financial burden is immense.

"Without the fee, because I’m still finding my feet in the job market, the fact that I don’t have to pay is a big factor, and helps a lot."

Listingart estimates about 130 graduates of the Canadian ComIT program have landed jobs in the industry. If he includes the charity’s work in South America, more than 1,000 people are working with the skills they acquired in his classroom. The federal government has supported the initiative, and while not formally announced, a $835,500 Western Economic Diversification Canada grant is listed on the government’s website to support ComIT’s expansion into Saskatchewan and Alberta. Listingart is currently eyeing the U.S. market for expansion, as well.

Despite the program’s success, Listingart still does not pay himself.

"For me this is a charity," he said. "You respect the money, so you have to be really efficient with the money you get. I can’t pay myself but it’s been growing at a fast pace, so I know eventually I will be able to have a salary out of this.

"It’s a full-time volunteering job," he said.

While there’s a demand for courses and education in the information technology sector, Listingart said he chose to put his skills toward charity based on principle.

"I believe in the democratization of education," he said. "My goal was to give that first chance. There are a lot of born-and-raised Canadians who are here and can’t get a loan to attend university or college, and they are still very smart and talented, but nobody gave them that first chance.

"And then you have a lot of newcomers that come here with degrees from all over the world and they are working at basic income jobs. Also we have a lot of talented people here in Canada who can’t have upward social mobility, so who is going to give them that first chance?”

Danielle Da Silva
Community journalist — The Sou'wester

Danielle Da Silva is the community journalist for The Sou'wester. Email her at danielle.dasilva@canstarnews.com

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