Q&A with Heather McGilvary
From startups to large agri-tech companies, there’s no shortage of entrepreneurial and innovative businesses in Western Canada.
Heather McGilvary is the Senior Program Coordinator for the TECHNATION Career Ready Program in the Prairie provinces. Based out of Calgary, she acts as the liaison between employers and the Career Ready Program, helping them secure funding for their work placement students.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the relationships that have been built, and nothing makes me happier than anecdotes from employers following up with me about an incredible student they had, and what a difference the student made for their organization,” she says.
We talked with Heather about hiring trends in Western Canada, and how Prairie businesses are using Career Ready funding to their advantage. Here’s what she has to say about what’s going on in the West:
Q: What are common tech jobs that you’re seeing students in Western Canada being hired for?
A: I’m witnessing the IT industry flourish with the support of students. Students out of Camosun College are being hired into software development internships, and Concordia University of Edmonton students are supporting operations management positions. There’s an Okanagan College student rocking a systems administrator position, and a UVic student designing safety devices related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sector I’ve been so excited to work with in Western Canada is non-profits. They’re finding great value in hiring students for social media and digital communications expertise, and for innovative and strategic business initiatives, such as process improvement or digitizing resources that were once all stored in paper format.
Q: What industries are you seeing benefiting from Career Ready funding in your region?
A: Start-ups, Agri-tech and non-profits are benefitting most.
I work with several start-ups. There are so many amazing innovation hubs in Western Canada, like Innovate Calgary—who supplies technology transfer and business incubator services in southern Alberta’s tech sector. Many people don’t know that Edmonton is one of the most prosperous cities for new tech companies. They really take off and thrive.
In the agri-tech industry, Olds College is really leading the way in Canada—and globally—with research and development in the agriculture, horticulture, land and environmental management sectors. For example, a student studying precision agriculture was hired to oversee the technology integration and variable rate nutrient application on a farm to maximize crop growth. The job description and the need for this student’s expertise astounded me.
One non-profit that we work with employs students to connect with remote and Indigenous communities to identify families and children in need of emergency vision appointments. They then virtually connect those individuals with a doctor. It’s also been an extraordinary pleasure to see online counselling services and novel companies emerge in these difficult times. The ingenuity and resourcefulness that can be brought forward with the support of a student never fails to amaze me.
The cannabis industry is also growing and leveraging the program, and on the West Coast and in the Yukon, the tourism industry is exploring new ways of operating during the pandemic with the help of tech.
Q: Are there any industries not accessing Career Ready funding that could really benefit from it?
A: In my opinion, some of the more traditional businesses are struggling with technology and don’t realize that there is help and support for them through programs like Career Ready. If a small family-owned restaurant was able to build an online presence, I do believe it could alleviate some pressures of COVID-19 restrictions.
Q: Are companies hiring students for particular purposes, roles or reasons?
A: The ways in which students can engage and meaningfully interact with technology are exponential. I think the digital savviness of students really shines through when employers turn to them to develop social media and digital communication strategies.
Students are immersed daily in tech and social media—they’ve never known a time without it. So, they bring a really incredible perspective to any company—whether they’re supporting social media, IT, data analytics or any other aspect of tech.
Q: When do employers typically hire students, and when do they apply for Career Ready funding?
A: There are three placement terms throughout the calendar year. The summer term (May-August) coincides beautifully with students taking a break from studies over the summer months and provides meaningful employment for students to fund their education. It’s a very exciting time for the Career Ready Program. We also have two other terms that employers can hire students for: fall, which runs September to December, and winter, which runs January to April.
Canadian students can be a helpful asset to help your company grow, and thanks to federal wage subsidies for work-integrated learning, the risk and cost for employers is minimal. The TECHNATION Career Ready Program provides wage subsidies for hiring students in tech-related roles—and it’s not just tech companies that qualify. Students can be hired to manage social media, optimize agricultural practices and more.
If your business operates in Western Canada and you want to learn more about the program, Heather can help you.
“I’m here to support employers throughout the application process. Although the process is very easy and streamlined, it is great to have someone like myself who they can reach out to at any time to provide exemplary customer support,” says Heather.
She notes that she can help employers connect with career services and co-op offices at post-secondary institutions if they need help finding a student.
“My job is to ensure they are successful in hiring a great student and that the process is absolutely flawless for them.”