During the pandemic, cities across Canada paused many of their existing smart infrastructure projects. Along with larger investments in health and wellbeing, new municipal “smart” projects often prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion along with initiatives to promote sustainability. Public consultations conducted by the Information and Communications Tech Council (ICTC) in 14 smart cities across Canada also highlighted diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability as a priority across many jurisdictions.

Making Space for Equity-Deserving Tech Talent

Canada’s smart cities are already diverse, but more work is needed to create a truly equitable digital economy. For instance, ICTC’s research has found that some key occupations are quite diverse: for example, visible minorities make up 45.9% of software engineers and designers, and women make up 50.2% of the graphic designers and illustrators in Canada’s digital economy. However, for most other key tech positions, women are under-represented compared to their national average across all occupations, and Black and Indigenous peoples’ overall representation in the digital economy remains low. Despite some progress, more work is needed to ensure talent and cities are built with inclusivity and diversity in mind. Beyond representation, cities can show a commitment to working with equity-deserving groups, newcomers, and people living with disabilities by ensuring their voices are heard in smart city consultations.

Narrowing the gap of equity seeking groups in the digital economy can improve the supply of in-demand tech talent. Gathering data from 22 cities across Canada, the talent crunch is most profound in in-demand roles like software engineering, project managers, business analysts, cybersecurity, and full stack developers. Competition among cities for talent is particularly intense in the fields of electrical vehicle charging systems or geothermal heating. Smart city jobs often require technical skills to assist with infrastructure management that involves server management (Linux, windows server) and cloud services (Amazon web etc.).

To meet these talent needs, policymakers can develop strategies to decrease barriers for newcomers, such as improving international credential recognition. Smart city employers are also reviewing alternative talent pipelines from the traditional four-year degree pathway. This is in part due to the popularity of micro-credentials during the pandemic. Micro-credentials and technical programs can be more appealing for students with diverse backgrounds because of the flexibility and affordability they offer. The Society of Human Resource Management, an advocacy group “for making work, workers and the workplace better,” found that employers are recognizing micro-credentials when making hiring decisions, however, university degrees are still preferred.

Livable Cities are Sustainable Cities

Not only are Canadians looking for cities that reflect their diversity and commitments to equity, but they also prioritize sustainable and environmentally responsive solutions. Smart cities projects often use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to measure and reduce their environmental impacts. Cities deploy IoT technologies that monitor traffic, water, and energy usage. These smart infrastructure projects often improve the livability of cities by reducing congestion, poverty, and improving air quality.

Sustainability projects—like Siemen’s Smart Infrastructure Digital Grid project and the Town of Bridgewater’s Energize Bridgewater Program—usually have secondary outcomes, such as reducing the cost of utilities or improving water ways and green spaces. As Sarah Burch told ICTC that sustainability means different things for different communities and that smart cities projects should reflect the unique needs of the communities they seek to serve.

Innovation and technologies are transforming governments, cities, and the way residents interact with their public spaces. Whether it’s water monitoring tools or 5G technology for regulating high-traffic areas, smart cities solutions address everyday challenges and prioritize the needs of residents. A people-centred approach also considers equity, diversity, inclusion, and sustainability as crucial drivers for securing the talent needed for smart cities solutions. Moreover, accessibility and affordability are foundational priorities for municipalities that seek to foster and retain a vibrant and talented community.

First published on IoT North Conference