As the leading city in North America for tech talent concentration, standing out amongst the pool of candidates also looking to get ahead in the Ottawa tech industry can certainly seem like a daunting task. However, battling it out in the “global war for talent” might not have to be a solitary task — as long as you know where to look.
Enter Xtreme Talent Accelerator (XTAP), a free program that offers industry-relevant tech workshops and career development support to help prospective employees land jobs within Ottawa’s fast-growing tech sector. Founded by Invest Ottawa president Michael Tremblay and director of talent strategy Natalie MacArthur in 2019, the Employment Ontario program is backed by grants from the provincial and federal governments, as well as Invest Ottawa, and aims to provide hands-on workshops and hiring events to tech beginners and workers in partnership with companies like LinkedIn Learning and AWS certifications.
But XTAP isn’t just looking to help out job-seekers — it’s also looking to help potential employers navigate the tech sector’s talent crisis, and streamline hiring to benefit workers and companies alike.
This is an edited transcript of an interview with MacArthur on XTAP’s origins, development, and hopes for Ottawa’s future of tech talent acquisition and management.
Q: I want to get into the weeds with you today and really talk about what you guys are doing, what you’re working on, who benefits, how this helps Ottawa’s tech talent ecosystem. The fight for talent is definitely a narrative we’ve been hearing about for the last few years.
NM: It’s interesting. I’ve been working in this field for almost 15 years, and it continues to be a topic of conversation no matter what city you’re living in. The antiquated phrase, ‘the global war for talent,’ I think has been used a million times over but it’s just so true.
(XTAP) was an idea that was born out of the continued need for the technical talent capacity that the Ottawa region really requires. It’s such a wonderful program just because of how many people from all walks of life it can support. Whether you’re a job seeker, whether you’re working within an organization, and just want to top up your tech skills in these different capacities, there is something for you.
We offer both 12 week, 60-hour-a-week programs which are very intensive, as well as part-time options for more flexibility and we have programs that focus on a range of different areas.
We identified web development, cloud development, data science, and cybersecurity as being the ones that brought such great opportunities for the Ottawa market and we received a lot of industry support for that.
For example, we’re working really closely with the Ottawa Hospital on upskilling. They use a big data analytical platform called MD Clone, and it gives their staff an opportunity to learn how to manipulate healthcare data privacy in a way that is compliant. We’ve also been working with Lighthouse Labs and AWS certifications to develop programs to facilitate that skill development. Then participants get topped up with a LinkedIn Learning license for a year after that, too.
Q: How can XTAP help Ottawa out of its talent crisis in the tech sector specifically?
NM: There’s such an opportunity for us to start to build the talent capacity that exists within the city. The list of opportunities is endless. The way that we have an opportunity to blend the talent market data, the employer data, the anecdotal feedback in the stakeholder consultations together — those four things need to be a continued process so that what we’re designing and what we’re building has the right kind of impact to meet the objectives. And for us, the objectives are to have a large number of qualified candidates within the city of Ottawa, and for them to be retained within the city of Ottawa, for them to continue to grow in their organizations and to be engaged in their work and lives in Ottawa.
Q: It’s so great in Ottawa with Kanata North being here, there’s so much opportunity for work, right? When they go through the XTAP program, there’s almost the promise of a career after that, because of the connections and partnerships that you guys have?
NM: I’m glad that you brought that up, because one of the real areas of opportunity is finding the companies that would be interested in offering the job seekers a role. Our talent program has had the opportunity to partner with over 150 companies, so our reach is fantastic. But where I really want us to be able to get to is that culminating point with the firms whereby we have a midterm portfolio review to be able to demonstrate how these job seekers could provide value — and all of them are so fantastic and excited about it — so that we can continue to support them in their professional journey as well.
Q: So who is the right applicant for this?
NM: We’re really looking for participants who have the desire to want to participate, to complete the program and then to contribute. It’s open to anyone that is a Canadian resident that holds a permanent residency card, or is a protected person. And ideally, we’re looking for those job seekers who are either coming from a group that would seek equity, or are wanting to better their careers and their professional journeys. We’re targeting financially vulnerable populations — Indigenous peoples, immigrants, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, as well racialized people, women and youth. With a standard application, there is an opportunity to include your stories, and we do always love reading those because it gives us a sense of how we’re being able to support participants through this next chapter for them.
Q: And is there a total cap on how many people that can be in the program at one time?
NM: Over the course of our first year, we were looking to train over 500 individuals. I do anticipate we will even exceed our participant targets for year one. And so nine months is really what’s needed to execute the program in terms of onboarding the participants and having them complete the workshops.
Q: Is there anything else that might be important to note?
NM: A call to action for the employers. There’s an opportunity to work with some fantastic individuals who are now coming out of these workshops with skills that they’re looking to apply right away, and we would be delighted to be able to support any employer with brokering that connection between the participants and themselves.