NPower Canada provides free technology training for disadvantaged adults

By Scotiabank, Jan 18, 2024

Looking to put down roots, Jodi Saucier — a native of Regina and member of the Métis Nation who spent her 20s and 30s travelling around Western Canada — settled down on a four-hectare farm east of Pincher Creek, Alberta on the Treaty 7 lands of the Blackfoot with her partner 15 years ago. However, finding steady employment in a rural community of about 6,000 people proved difficult.

Saucier considered starting an agriculture venture and got a Prairie Horticulture Certificate from the University of Saskatchewan five years ago, but subsequently realized entrepreneurship wasn’t for her.

“Risk-taking is a requirement to entrepreneurship and agriculture can be risk-taking on steroids. I’m not comfortable with that,” she said.

That’s when Saucier realized that her basic computer skills — the equivalent of what elementary school graduates have — might be holding her back from roles she was otherwise qualified to do. At the age of 50, Saucier enrolled in the Junior IT Analyst program at NPower Canada, a charity that provides unemployed and underemployed Canadians with access to technological training for in-demand skills at no cost. When she graduated last year, she already had a job lined up with a national, independent property and casualty insurance broker in Pincher Creek and is pursuing a new career in insurance.
“I literally went from training to a job,” she said, crediting NPower Canada’s course work and excellent resume-building course.

NPower Canada creates pathways to economic prosperity for Canada’s underserved youth and adults by launching them into meaningful and sustainable digital careers. And its success rate is good with 80% of participants graduating and 82% of those graduates obtaining tech-related employment or enrolling in post-secondary education within a year.

It currently offers two 15-week programs. The entry level course Saucier took, which requires basic computer skills such as searching the internet or using email, qualifies participants for roles such as help desk specialist, project analyst, junior systems administrator, digital customer care agent, and service technician. Its other offering, a Junior Data Analyst program, requires more computer knowledge and prepares graduates for roles such as data analyst, help desk specialist, database developer, business or project analyst or junior database administrator.

Support for learning

To help NPower Canada expand its programs and reach more people across the country, particularly in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, Scotiabank has committed $800,000 over two years. The donation is provided through ScotiaRISE, Scotiabank’s 10-year $500-million initiative aimed at promoting economic resilience among disadvantaged groups. NPower Canada recently launched in Manitoba, and has plans to expand to Ottawa/Gatineau, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan over the next two years.

“ScotiaRISE is committed to helping remove barriers to career advancement for disadvantaged or underrepresented groups including newcomers, racialized and Indigenous Canadians,” Maria Saros, Vice President & Global Head, Social Impact, at Scotiabank, said. “We are proud to support NPower Canada as it expands its programs to rural communities across Canada and adds courses that will give graduates the technology skills that increasingly are key to building a career” she said.

The biggest challenge for NPower Canada as it expands will be to ensure employment is available, said Nisha Lewis, Chief Operating Officer at the organization. Currently, the charity has more than 300 employers nationwide and 11 partners that have hired more than 100 graduates, many of which were in urban centres. It’s one way, Lewis said, partners such as Scotiabank can help. “Scotiabank is national and has reach within smaller communities, as well as digital customer care roles,” she noted.

NPower Canada opened its first bricks-and-mortar location in the Greater Toronto Area in 2014, and was modelled after its U.S.-based sister organization, founded in 2001. The organization, however, had to adjust how it delivered its national employment program early in 2020 when COVID-19 virtually shut down the country. “It was the silver lining. We were able to test virtual delivery, and it allowed us to expand the program province-wide in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia,” Lewis said.

Unlike many virtual technology programs, NPower Canada provides instructor-led classes, job-search assistance, and five years of alumni services. Many of the participants are from communities that historically are underrepresented in the tech sector — Indigenous or racialized; new Canadians; women, non-binary or transgender. While the priority is young adults and early-career workers, some like Saucier, are in their late 40s to mid-50s, whose technology skills need updating to stay current with an ever-changing digital workplace.

Upskilling for tech careers

NPower Canada also is adding programs to ensure participants’ skills remain relevant to employers. With cybersecurity becoming more of a priority as phishing, spam and other threats grow, it is adding a Security Operations Analyst program in March to prepare graduates for roles such as security operations analyst, security engineer, junior incident response analyst, information security officer, or cybersecurity specialist. All of its courses will also now include Artificial Intelligence (AI) components.

“We update our programs continuously to ensure that our graduates are equipped with the skills that are going to keep them ready for the future of work and give them a baseline understanding of what’s ahead,” Lewis said.

Based on how quickly technology advances, she noted that employers expect workers to be able to upgrade their technical skills — learn new programs, new systems, new processes — about every three years. “What employers want is for employees to have a lifelong learner mindset,” she said.

“We want the job that our graduates get to be their floor, not their ceiling. It’s a starting point from which they can build and we’re seeing that when we speak to our alumni.”

Many of NPower Canada’s alumni report that after they get their first position at a good company, they are moving quickly into other areas and being asked to try new things.

That was the case for Saucier. A few months after getting her first position, which provided her with the opportunity to complete the level one program for insurance advisors, Saucier moved to another national insurance company, and is working toward her level 2.

“Luckily for me, the business owner recognizes my agricultural background. I am currently training to take over the farm portfolio, which brings all of my educational experiences of the past five years together into one industry,” she said.

Saucier said there are many people in her age group who would benefit from a brush-up course, such as NPower Canada offers. “The changes have been immense since we went to university. A lot of us are hard workers but may lack the computer experience.

“We have a lot of amazing soft skills, but not necessarily the tech skills to secure the job,” she said.

“There were a lot of different professionals represented in the class, that just needed to update their technical skills, which is really important, especially as we’re changing to a greener, less labour-intensive economy.”