Saskatchewan

'Create that spark': Software testing program seeks to increase Indigenous people in IT sector

Saskatchewan has a new six-month software testing program that aims to bring more Indigenous people into the IT industry. There are 14 students enrolled in the Professional Aboriginal Testing Organization (PLATO) program in Regina.

PLATO program in Regina sends students directly off to internships; many get jobs

Robert Pelletier on the left, is from Cowessess First Nation and Connor Thomson is from Carry the Kettle First Nation. They are both aspiring software testers in the PLATO program. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC )

Saskatchewan has a new six-month software testing program that aims to bring more Indigenous people into the IT industry.

There are 14 students enrolled in the Professional Aboriginal Testing Organization (PLATO) program in Regina. With classes five days a week for 15 weeks, they focus on testing application methodologies.

It was a competitive process to choose from a multitude of applicants for the four month PLATO indigenous software testing program. After the program, past students in other cities have gotten high-wage jobs. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC )

"At the end of it we think that as far as the testers go we're on par with pretty much any program in Canada," said PLATO managing director Denis Carignan. 

The program is thanks to a partnership with the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council development corporation, FHQ Developments, which was propelled to bring the program to Saskatchewan to address the gap of Indigenous people in the IT sector.

Denis Carignan is the managing director of PLATO Sask and said there is a team aspect to the training. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC )

"We've had incredible success in other cities, with an 85 per cent completion rate," said Carignan. "Students enter the program with no testing experience and graduate six months later with the skills they need to succeed as a software tester and begin their career in IT."

The program is 'Indigenized' in its approach, said Carignan, meaning it stresses kinship and teamwork in the ways the cohort of students becomes much like a family. 

"There's fear because there's very few people like me [in IT], so I'm sort of going into an area saying, 'people are looking at me,' or 'this is an uncomfortable place to be,' and what I believe is important is that we build a community of Indigenous people in IT across Canada," said Carignan.

"Sometimes all we need to do is create that spark, a belief that somebody can succeed and do the rest." 

Single mother finds strength in program

One of the students benefiting from this training is Melissa Friday, a single mother of four. She is attentive in the classroom, always asking questions and smiling. Carignan said she is breaking out of her shell.

"Juggling my personal life with school, but when I come to class it's like I forget about all of it and I just focus on my studies and it makes me just want to try even harder to be a better role model for my children," said Melissa Friday, a student at the PLATO program. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

For Friday, taking the class is all about her children, who recently lost their father.

"It's basically showing my children that going through trauma and going through something hard in life that you have to keep pushing forward no matter what," said the member of Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan. 

Friday said although her children are going through grief and PTSD, her attending the PLATO courses every day is inspiring them to do bigger things in life in order to ease their healing journeys.

'I love being able to tell my family'

Friday is joined by fellow student Lee Prosper. As a young father, he has felt like he has had to over-achieve in any work field or education field he has entered. He said the program gives him a sense of confidence that he is able to share with his family. 

"I feel like there's too many Indigenous people with too much potential too much that have that spark - and you know, they just don't have the opportunity," says Lee Prosper, a father and also a PLATO student hoping to gain full-time employment once he is done the training. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC )

"I love being able to tell my family I'm an IT software tester, you know? It's just something you don't hear out of an Indigenous male. I know there's a lot of people in programming and everything like that, but this is actually something very different than I've done before," said Prosper. 

He said like Friday, his children are his main motivation to complete this program. 

"What would it be doing for them if I was to just stay still? Would they be left in poverty, too? Would they know how to go to university? Would they know how to, you know, reach for their dreams at least? Or, you know, that one day that they're able and skilled enough and that their skin colour doesn't stop them from anything?"

Program leads to internship, jobs

Once the students are finished their four-month training, they are offered a two-month internship. If they successfully complete that internship, they are guaranteed employment.

The PLATO Sask program is a partnership between FHQ Developments and PQA, and they say it is the first-ever Indigenous owned and led software testing firm in Saskatchewan. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

Carignan said some program students receive a starting wage of $17 to $19 per hour. That is a big spike in earnings and quality of living for some of the students in the class. 

"Often the work that we're doing might go offshore to some other country and our goal is really to bring the work, keep it here in Canada for the benefit of our people in our communities." 

This program is not yet a university accredited course, although the training takes place at the University of Regina's campus.

The students will finish the program's training in November. Their internships will begin in January 2020. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article contained incorrect information about the starting wage some program participants receive in their first job following their internships. It is $17 to $19 per hour.
    Jul 19, 2019 9:33 AM CT

About the Author

Ntawnis Piapot is Nehiyaw Iskwew from Piapot Cree Nation. She has a journalism degree from the University of Regina, and is a graduate from the INCA Media and Intercultural Leadership Program from the First Nations University. Ntawnis has been a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, APTN National News, CTV Regina, VICE News, J-Source and Eagle Feather News. Email: ntawnis.piapot@cbc.ca