Sask. in race with rest of world to attract high-tech workers, says industry advocate

There is a shortage of high-tech workers in Saskatchewan, and if the province can’t bring in skilled people, our standard of living wil suffer, says the president of SaskTech, which represents the interests of Saskatchewan technology companies.

Province has introduced new program to make it easier for skilled workers to settle in Sask.

There are more high-tech jobs available in Saskatchewan than there are qualified people to fill them, according to Aaron Genest. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

There is a shortage of high-tech workers in Saskatchewan, and if we can't bring in skilled people, our standard of living will suffer, says the president of SaskTech, which represents the interests of Saskatchewan technology companies.

"The areas of the world that have managed to meet those innovation challenges and drive forward their economic sectors are the ones that are going to have the great jobs and high quality of living," said Aaron Genest.

"Those that don't are going to be relegated to jobs that are less desirable and lifestyles that are lower value and lower economically."

According to the Canadian government, Saskatchewan's tech sector has grown 38 per cent since 2010.

As it continues to grow, so does the need for qualified workers

SaskTech president Aaron Genest says the new provincial program that aims to attract immigrants with technology skills is a step in the right direction. (CBC News)

To attract those workers, the province has introduced Tech Talent Pathway under the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP).

The new initiative will expedite the permanent immigration of tech workers already working in Saskatchewan, as well as those who are recruited from outside of Canada.

"As Saskatchewan emerges from the impacts of the global pandemic, our technology sector will be an important driver of economic growth," said Immigration and Career Training Minister Jeremy Harrison in a news release. "The new Tech Talent Pathway provides our Saskatchewan employers with a dedicated stream for the attraction of highly skilled talent into our thriving technology sector."

Genest, who is also senior manager at Siemens Digital Industries in Saskatoon, said Saskatchewan is in a race with the rest of the world for these highly skilled workers, and that it is crucial we attract and retain them.

"[The new program] sends a signal, I think, to potential immigrants that we want people to come here and stay here," Genest said.

"We want them to settle down here. We want them to be part of our communities and enrich our jobs and enrich our cities and towns."

Even traditional industries like agriculture are in need of workers with technology skill sets. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Genest said traditional industries in the province like mining, agriculture and energy are also needing more workers with digital skills.

While post secondary institutions are doing a good job supplying graduates, Genest said we also need workers with years of experience.

"We need people who understand what the jobs look like around the world, people who have done the job for five years, for 10 years, and we just don't have those people in Saskatchewan," he said.

"Every time we hire one of those people, we're able to hire five to 10 really junior people and get them trained."

Even with this new provincial program, there are still barriers to getting skilled workers into the province.

Genest said one problem is the federal government's immigration system taking far too long to admit immigrants.

"Whether that's a resourcing challenge or it's because of COVID, or it's because there are large numbers of people willing to move right now — it's probably all of those things, but they gate-keep all of the immigration process," Genest said.

For instance, he said Saskatchewan could accept hundreds of Ukrainian immigrants tomorrow, but would still have to  wait on the federal government to be able to open up the channels and allow people into the country.

"We'd love for that to happen. Ukraine has a very aggressive and modern tech community … especially in agriculture and in mining," he said.

"So it would be fantastic if we see something move there, but we have to wait for the federal government to do something."

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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