Opportunity for Higher Education to challenge the digital skills disparity

Teen boy sitting at desk infront of window with device.

The pandemic has forever changed our world and our workforce. Canada, which is home to some of the most innovative companies in the world, has shown incredible resilience over the last few years as technology adoption across industries and organizations accelerated.  

The transformation towards a digital, tech-first workforce has intensified the digital skills gap that existed long before the pandemic. In fact, a recent poll from KPMG found that Canadian businesses are struggling to find and retain skilled talent and tech skills are top priority for companies that are hiring. 

Canada’s education sector is at a tipping point where how and what students are learning from K-12 to post-secondary is changing. If we’re serious about our evolution in society, it’s critical that we shape learning across the students entire learning journey. Students need the proper tools and digital expertise that match the field they’re entering before they graduate to succeed in a bustling digital world.  

This month, University Canada West, a private post-secondary institution in British Columbia, released a whitepaper examining the critical role that post-secondary education plays in addressing this issue; preparing students for the roles that are available – whether they’re strictly technical or one of the many job functions across marketing, sales, human resources, and operations that require digital skills – and building the talent pipeline.  

Findings from their discussions with technology leaders, thinkers, founders, and C-suite executives identified five opportunities for post-secondary institutions to help address the talent crisis. These opportunities include: 

  1. Building the skills of tomorrow’s disrupters 

Educators and post-secondary institutions must help students develop the technical, strategic, and humanistic skills that will allow them to graduate future-ready with a competitive advantage.  

  1. Bringing academia and industry together, sooner 

Empowering students with practical learning opportunities that easily translate to work-related experience is fundamental. We need to bring real work experiences into the classroom, by embedding it in course curriculum and offering in-field placements. 

  1. Reimaging how students learn and are assessed 

In today’s world, divergent thinking is an asset. Educators must embrace different thinking and create a more multi-disciplinary learning approach for their students. Furthermore, business is moving faster than ever before, therefore, students need experience working quickly and they must part with the concept of executing every task perfectly.

  1.  Meeting demand for skilling and reskilling 

Educational institutions can support industry in reskilling or upskilling their existing talent by developing training solutions that can easily be put into action.

  1. Changing the narrative 

Most importantly, educators can help change the way students view technology. We need to incite curiosity around technology early and get more students thinking of themselves in a digital world, not just when they reach university but early in their academic journey too.  

Over the past year and a half Microsoft Canada has worked closely with post-secondary institutions to act on many of the now-revelatory insights derived by University Canada West. Developing new avenues to bring academia and industry together to create programs that are ubiquitous and empower all Canadians to develop or enhance their digital skills is a cornerstone of Microsoft Canada’s roadmap for the future. Microsoft Canada is continuing to work together with higher education institutions across the nation to seize on these opportunities and support them as they evolve their curriculum and learning experiences to help students accelerate in a modern, digital age.

Evolving higher education in Canada means industry and post-secondary institutions need to work together.  It’s why Microsoft has been working in collaboration with RBC and post-secondary leaders such as the University of Calgary and Seneca College, to provide scaled digital learning opportunities to every corner of the country. With the University of Waterloo, we collectively rethought work-ready experiences – creating the Cloud and AI stream of the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program. Going further, Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management created an innovative and reimagined learning model to prepare students for the digital economy by creating bootcamps delivered by students for students.  

When students are equipped with in-demand skills and are presented with new and innovative opportunities to obtain real-world experience, their future possibilities are realized.

Read more about University Canada West’s perspective on how post-secondary institutions can help prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s tech realities.

Click here to read the whitepaper


Dr. Elka Walsh, National Learning and Skills Lead, Microsoft Canada