By Janet Lane
Published in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal

March 16, 2021

The recent announcement that Infosys is on its way to Calgary, and will bring 500 jobs, with the hope that there may be more in the long-term, is something to celebrate. The four-year process to attract this world-class technology company, initiated by Calgary Economic Development, has paid off. It’s a sorely needed good news story for Calgary and Alberta. We could use more of them.

Estimates of the number of people who have lost jobs through the calamities that clobbered Alberta over the past six years vary but have reached at least the tens of thousands. The collapse of oil prices — twice — and the economic losses due to the pandemic, have left the once most prosperous province in the country looking more like a have-not province. Alberta must attract employers to set up shop here or to expand their operations. A huge part of what makes a location attractive is the presence of workers with the skills needed for the kinds of jobs new employers will create. While Alberta has a highly educated population, many of today’s displaced workers simply don’t have the skills new employers are looking for.

Alberta has both a demand and a supply problem.

Governments can set the policies and regulations that make a province and specifically its communities attractive. But it’s not just tax policy that makes a jurisdiction a great place in which to do business. Employers who care about their employees also know that quality of life and cost of living are the biggest factors. Infosys executives stressed these were high on their list.

When it comes to quality of life, people look for a vibrant arts and culture scene, year-round recreational opportunities, vibrant locations for socializing with friends — stores and restaurants — and high-quality education.

Education is important to Infosys. It was one of the major factors in its decision. The company wanted a well-educated pool of talent from which to draw. Interestingly, its spokespeople did not say that they would be looking especially for computer science graduates, but rather they want to hire people with a high “learnability quotient.” They don’t want to employ people who have all the answers; they want people who can ask good questions and are willing and able to learn.

Infosys has grown its own workforce by working with local post-secondary institutions to offer a company training program. This program has three facets: It trains recent graduates; hires and retrains workers who have been displaced from other sectors; and has an apprenticeship program so that people can work, learn and earn at the same time. This company sets a high bar for the kinds of good neighbours this province needs to attract.

To entice other companies, including some that are not as well established as Infosys, Alberta communities can sweeten the pot with a guarantee that there will be a talent pool with the right skills available, when needed.

Technology and processes that enable the development of competency profiles for jobs and individuals already exist. Matching the needs of employers with the aspirations, aptitudes and competencies of people who are looking for new or better work can be done through the use of these profiles. To make the talent pool guarantee possible, post-secondary institutions need to work with potential employers to develop targeted, rapid reskilling and upskilling opportunities for individuals who are interested in these new jobs.

Traditional workplace retraining programs have offered programs for groups of people, using curriculum designed to meet the general needs of occupations in the local economy. They have typically been a one-size-fits-all solution.

A one-size-fits-all solution will not work for the thousands of people looking for work in the new jobs the Alberta economy expects to create through its Recovery Plan. Reskilling and upskilling opportunities must be customized to the needs of specific employers, identify the gaps in the would-be worker’s competencies, and then allow for a rapid filling of just those gaps.

Obviously, developing a talent pool is not something that happens overnight, but the economic development process takes time. If the profile building begins early, the talent pool guarantee is a good bet.

Janet Lane is the director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation.

Photo by Kikuno on Unsplash