When BMO Financial Group surveyed its Indigenous employees, it asked them what barriers they ran into when it came to getting and keeping jobs at the bank.
One key message that came back from the 2019 survey was the difficulty in landing a job with BMO without leaving home, especially when home was a reserve or remote community. Respondents also said they were interested in more than entry-level jobs.
Those themes two helped shape a program in which BMO has teamed up with PLATO Testing and AWS re/Start to run a 12-week cloud computing boot camp for 22 students, including some from remote communities. Students who complete the course will get a six-month paid internship with BMO and, if all goes as planned, job offers.
PLATO Testing is a software testing company that trains and hires Indigenous employees. AWS re/Start is an Amazon training program designed to help unemployed or underemployed people get into cloud computing, which uses the internet to provide data and services.
The BMO program, announced in January, is in keeping with the bank’s corporate diversity, equity and inclusion objectives, which include increasing the number of Indigenous employees. It’s also designed to build a talent pipeline for the bank.
“So, we plan to hire Indigenous people into technology jobs because that’s an area of growth in the bank – whereas the branch network, that’s not an area of growth in the bank,” says Kona Goulet, BMO’s head of Indigenous Equity and Inclusion.
“So those are the two objectives: Let’s create on-reserve remote employment opportunities, and let’s do it in technology.”
The 22 students enrolled come from various backgrounds and locations.
Kyle Moore, 24, is Métis and lives in Winnipeg. He’d previously taken a college computing course and was drawn by the opportunity to get into cloud computing. He said he feels “culturally welcomed” in the BMO program, while college could feel distant, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bank internship and the possibility of a job sold him on the program.
“Getting your foot in the door is really, really difficult … getting a training program that starts you from the bottom, and onboarding you and training you from the ground up, is something really difficult to do [on your own],” he said.
For PLATO, the BMO partnership marked a shift from providing its own software testing training to rolling out the AWS re/Start program, which is designed to give students skills required for entry-level cloud roles.
But PLATO, founded in 2015 as an offshoot of PQA Testing, had experience in recruiting and supporting Indigenous students and a focus on building an Indigenous network in the technology sector.
The pandemic also highlighted the potential in remote training and employment. When COVID-19 struck, a PLATO employee who had been working in Regina was in a bind after his roommates lost their jobs and moved out. He asked if he could work from his home reserve in northwestern Saskatchewan. After checking the location had adequate internet service, PLATO okayed the plan.
“We had a test team that had members in Vancouver, Regina, Sault Ste. Marie, Mississauga and Flying Dust First Nation, where he lives,” said PLATO Testing president Denis Carignan, who is a member of the Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan.
“The client was in Calgary, the implementation was in southern Manitoba and the development team was in Lisbon, Portugal. That’s sort of the magic that we’ve tapped into … it’s about investing in talent, and supporting the talent so it can grow.”
Students in the BMO program will receive some financial support while taking the program and will be paid in line with BMO rates during their internships. A big part of the program will be connections; interns can benefit simply by knowing there’s someone else in the same boat, Mr. Carignan said.
Ms. Goulet, who is Cree Métis and grew up in Treaty 6 territory in northern Saskatchewan, sees potentially significant benefits from the program for BMO, and for students and their communities, and hopes it will become a template for future training.
“There are two facets of this that are new – one is the reskilling and focusing on diverse and disadvantaged communities. And the other is the virtual environment, which enables people to work from anywhere,” she said.
“We’ve doubled our Indigenous hires over the last year and I can say without a doubt that it’s because we’re tapping into Indigenous talent markets that we haven’t been able to previously, because we’ve been locked into urban city centers and so now we can go reach across Canada for so many jobs across the bank.”
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