RED Academy seeks to plug rising tech skills gap

A Vancouver-based technical training academy is hoping to help bridge the skills gap in the technology industry when it opens its doors this summer. RED Academy will differentiate itself by providing real-world industry experience for its students.

The school will offer courses in coding, UX and web design, and digital marketing, on a full-time or part-time basis. Promising mentorships and small class sizes, it will also offer education in branding, graphic design, and e-commerce.

Founded by Colin Mansell, who also founded web design and development agency Drive Digital, the school is targeting summer programs at people with very little experience with web technology. These will be precursors to professional programmes, which are three-month immersive courses that will prepare attendees for junior technology positions.

“We have done a lot of research into the current Vancouver job market, and serve eight 700 job positions, as well as working with our network of hiring partners (including companies like Telus, as well as other leading local web agencies to spring to help put together the learning programs,” said Mansell.

RED designs its programs around a real-world agency model, working with charities and organisations like Aboriginal Tourism BC to source simple projects that students can help with. Students will complete these projects at the school, and the partner organizations will apply them in real-world scenarios. The concept is an extension of pro-bono work conducted by Digital Drive, and the school is not paid by partners for the work its students complete for them, Mansell added.

Mansell argued that universities are not the best places to acquire technology skills today. He described them as large, slow-moving organisations unable to meet the speeds at which technology moves.

“We see some institutions still teaching DreamWeaver as a staple, and very rarely do traditional programs cover things like responsive design, HTML 5, or app development,” he said. With many professors on the tenure track, it also means that many people designing courses in universities are outdated in terms of real-world experience, he added.


“We see a really defensive approach to curriculum, instead of the open source approaches of sharing and openness that we see in the real world.”


The financial crisis in 2009 seemed to hit the technology sector in BC, but only temporarily. KPMG’s 2014 Technology Report Card for BC showed that employment in the tech sector was the third fastest growth area in employment teams between 1999 and 2012. But growth slowed between 2009 and 2012, the report suggested, leading to flat employment rates during that period.


Leaders from larger PC technology companies supported the view that employment growth had slowed in the technology sector, driven by productivity gains and a focus on using existing employees more effectively. KPMG’s document suggested that the BC tech sector was underperforming in employment growth compared to other provincial technology sectors, employing 18% fewer technology professionals than the cross-Canadian average.


Industry leaders had predicted a growth in employment from 2013 onwards, though, and other figures bear this out. The Information and Communications Technology Council Labour Market Outlook 2015 – 2019 predicted a 182,000-person shortfall in IT talent throughout Canada by 2019.


In Vancouver alone, employers will face a shortfall of 15,500 jobs in a baseline scenario, the ICTC report suggested. 4,400 of these empty jobs would be in computer programming and interactive media development, it said.


“We’re massively under-delivering tech education,” Mansell said. “We need to consider the forthcoming growth of Vancouver’s tech scene in terms of Microsoft’s 100,000 square foot new office, Amazon, Telus Garden, and Hootsuite, never mind our new tech stars over at Slack! It’s a super exciting time to get into tech right now.”



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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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