Momentum looking to connect women tech graduates with employers

It's part of a $1.9 million pilot to increase diversity in Alberta's tech workforce

Maron Wedajo, one of the students in the AWS reStart program at Momentum, in Calgary on Monday, June 27, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The first graduates from Momentum’s Amazon Web Services re/Start training program will soon be entering the workforce.

Now, the non-profit is looking to connect them with tech jobs here in Calgary.

The pilot program was launched earlier this year in conjunction with the Government of Alberta. It was a way to specifically target skills training for women wanting to enter the tech industry.

The program, as planned, was able to fill an initial 13 spots for women looking to start a new career. Graduates will be certified AWS cloud practitioners, skilled in programming for cloud services.

As a final component of the re/Start training, Momentum is looking to connect their students with work placement for hands-on workplace experience before graduation.

“We have a baseline of employers that we can draw on, but we also know that this is an amazing opportunity for employers that want to see more women in the tech sector,” said Donna McBride, director of operations for Momentum.

McBride said it’s a practical way to find people with quality skills in the tech industry. It’s also a perfect way to help build corporate diversity.

“So many times once a Momentum participant is working on site, even as a work experience participant, they get hired because just the quality of people that come through our programs, and how well prepared they are for this real-world experience.”

$1.9 million pilot project

The pilot program was given a $1.9 million grant by the province. Included within that were stipends for living and childcare.

An additional two cohorts of students are planned for the pilot program.

Prior to the pilot, re/START program availability was largely limited to transitioning oil and gas workers to the tech sector. Or, for college-age students. None were specifically tailored for women looking to enter the tech field.

For one of the current pilot program’s students, Maron Wedajo, as neither a college-aged student, nor an oil and gas worker, the existing program offerings didn’t fit.

Wedajo was working as a piano teacher prior to the pandemic but decided to make the change after being forced into learning basic tech skills to meet her clients’ needs during the initial lockdowns.

“I was running my studio, and within one day—basically within a weekend—I had to switch to online learning, and for the first time I was faced with solving tech problems for my clients,” she said.

“So transitioning almost 60 students, their parents, and their devices, I just had to patch up these different solutions and that got me interested in tech, and I started looking more into these things and it was exciting.”

Wedajo said there has been a lot of overlap between what she was doing previously with music, to now creating computer code.

“I can relate to everything that’s happening in the class when the teacher talks about it’s almost like building a composition,” said Wedajo.

“Troubleshooting things that don’t work going back and fixing them, it’s definitely related, and it all has the same structure. You have to build your foundation, you have to develop just like you would develop a piece—you have to test it out, see if it works, see if people like it, and if it’s usable,” she said.

“So it’s all the things that you would be doing when you present a piece of music to people.”

Diverse backgrounds demanded for industry

The tech industry emphasized solving the diversity gap in hiring qualified tech employees.

A recent CNBC report highlighted the relatively slow gain at major tech employers in hiring women, and people of colour. Their reporting showed that both Facebook and Google, went from approximately 15 per cent of their technical workforce being women in 2014, to just over 20 per cent in 2019.

Members of the so-called FAANG stocks, including Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon, alongside Twitter, all made major announcements promising millions to increase diversity within their workforces. IBM recently committed to diverse hiring for their new Western Canada innovation centre.

McBride said that Momentum’s graduates would help build that diverse tech industry here in the city.

“There’s not very many women involved in it, there’s really low representation there, so they can help to diversify that ecosystem as well and help be part of something here in Calgary,” she said.

From Wedajo’s perspective, the current group of students is bringing a wide set of skills that might not have otherwise been brought into the tech industry.

“There’s such a big experience pool, and I think Momentum with this program, just with the age group that they’ve targeted, it’s everybody’s bringing a vast load of experience—they’ve learned and they’ve done,” she said.

Wedajo emphasized though that this program isn’t just about providing diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s about providing quality, well-trained tech graduates to meet the needs of industry.

“It’s not just about the diversity—we will be able to represent a voice that hasn’t been heard—just bringing a female perspective into the tech world and into the kinds of solutions you can design is a good thing, but they’re also giving us the ability to be competent and to do the job well.”

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