SAIT's new School for Advanced Digital Technology

our Community Partner Jim Gibson adds Chief Catalyst to his many roles

by Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald (September 2020)

SAIT announced Wednesday it will establish a new downtown Calgary school for digital technology, an initiative aimed at addressing the growing skills gap between Calgary workers and available jobs.

SAIT’s School for Advanced Digital Technology will be located in the historic Odd Fellows building on 6th Avenue S.W., and is being funded by a $30-million donation by Calgary businessman and philanthropist David Bissett. The City of Calgary will also invest up to $8.2 million over five years for programming for the new school through the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund, a $100-million fund that targets initiatives that promise to create jobs and boost the local economy.

The SAIT technology school will try to address the significant shortage of tech talent in Calgary, by embedding digital literacy and technology training into SAIT’s existing curriculum, programs and courses. One component of the school, the Digital Transformation Talent Hub, will be a continuing education initiative that will offer training programs in digital transformation for individuals and corporate workforces. The Digital Transformation Talent Hub alone is expected to graduate more than 1,500 individuals over the next five years.

“Our goal is to ensure students — whether they are career starters or career changers — have the digital literacy, personal agility and entrepreneurial spirit to succeed in a future powered by technology,” said David Ross, SAIT President and CEO. “We are creating a tech-savvy talent pipeline — positioning SAIT graduates as the ones to hire and Calgary as a city that can meet the talent needs of any business.”

According to Calgary Economic Development, Calgary is home to 435 technology companies, three-quarters of which are startups. There are more than 2,000 open tech jobs in the city right now, and recruiting and hiring talent remains one of the sector’s highest priorities.

“We cannot bring the talent in fast enough,” said Jim Gibson, a serial entrepreneur and leader in Alberta’s tech community, who will be serving as dean of the SAIT technology school.

“What’s happening is that companies that are starting to scale up are actually hitting a stall because they cannot find the talent.”

Gibson added many of Calgary’s large companies, particularly in the energy sector, have also learned they need to improve the digital side of their operations but haven’t had access to the kind of continuing education programs that could benefit their work force.

“We need to develop the pipeline quickly,” Gibson said. “And with respect to the post-secondaries, it has to happen a little bit quicker than a four-year degree.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it is an unfortunate reality that Calgary has a significant pool of highly-trained unemployed professionals whose skills simply do not match the job openings that are available.

“The good news is that we are the most highly educated city in Canada,” Nenshi said. “And our ability to shift, to help people do a little bit of retraining or learn a few new skills . . . this is precisely what we need to invest in.”

The SAIT School for Advanced Digital Technology is expected to launch in January 2021.