British Columbia

Why learning computer coding is so important, according to advocates

Canada is expecting a shortage of workers to fill thousands of tech jobs in the near future, and B.C. schools have responded by making computer coding a mandatory part of the curriculum.

Canada is expecting a shortage of workers to fill thousands of tech jobs in the near future

The Ladies Learning Code workshops are designed to help people with a variety of skill levels learn new technologies, organizers say. (Submitted by Mala Kalra)

Reading, writing and arithmetic might not be enough to compete in Canada's future job market, say technology experts.

By 2020 there will be 200,000 communications and information technology jobs that need filling in Canada — and there won't be enough people to fill them, according to a report from the Information and Communications Technology Council.

According to Kirsten Sutton, Managing Director of SAP Labs Canada — a technology development centre — the opportunities to dive into the tech center have never been greater.

"There's nearly 9,000 tech companies in B.C. alone," she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac.

Figures released by the B.C. government indicate the province's tech companies employ more people than the mining, oil and gas and forestry sectors combined and offer an average wage of $1,580 per week.

But Sutton says the increased job opportunities aren't just limited to tech companies.

"Banking... mining... retail — every business has a digital component to it... and we don't even know what those digital needs will be in the future,"  she said.

Revamping public education

According to Melissa Sariffodeen, founder and CEO of Ladies Learning Code, technology is moving so fast that its crucial that the general public understand how it works.

"We don't even know what the jobs of the future are going to be yet," said Sariffodeen.  "It's really important that everyone has the ability to participate in building this world around us."

The B.C. government has acknowledged the evolving technological landscape by phasing mandatory classes into the province's school curriculum.

Sarriffodeen said coding can be effectively introduced as early as kindergarten — even without the use of a computer.

Grade 6 students Hannah Harely, top, and Bridget Daly prepare to race floor robots that will be used to help teach computer coding to elementary school students. (Keith Doucette/CBC)

"Coding right now is a way to learn a different skill set, and a different way of thinking," she said. "The languages come up in later years — but in early years, its about a way of framing problems... it's more pattern recognition and logic — and that's what we're teaching kids." 

By 2018, coding classes will be mandatory learning in all B.C. schools.

Ladies Learning Code is currently running courses to equip teachers with the skills to teach the complex subject.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Coding classes could help you compete in Canada's future job market