UBC team places as finalist in Canada Comeback Challenge

On March 31, UBC PhD candidate Christopher Walters and his team SkillsX took third place in the Canada Comeback Challenge. The federally-funded challenge partnered with sponsors from across Canada with the aim of connecting post-secondary students with employers to fill the “gap in lost work placements for students due to the pandemic.” The initiative was created by The Business and Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) and was open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Canadian universities.

“It is a way to connect students with employers and increase access to the talent needed to compete in a changing labour market,” the challenge’s Student Challenge Team said in an email to The Ubyssey.

SkillsX — with guidance from their mentor, the Business Council of Canada — were challenged to address a lack of technological literacy within the workforce that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A large portion of employees are not trained in new tech despite technology being frequently incorporated into the workforce. SkillsX developed a workforce management system that aimed to bridge the skills gap by allowing users to create a profile, partake in skill assessment and be able to track data trends over time.

For Walters, COVID-19 highlighted how imperative employee technological literacy is.

“There has been a huge technological demand for employees, and just having that technological competency … this is a good opportunity to assess employees’ current skills, and then offer training programs to help them relearn and rescale and be able to apply their expertise a little bit more effectively,” Walters said.

The challenge provided an opportunity for students to network with fellow students and employers and engage with issues they may not have been exposed to throughout their degree. Each team was given a real-world problem facing Canadian employers that touched on themes including sustainability, accessibility and skills and training.

“The Canada Comeback Challenge gives our country’s young leaders the chance to play a central role in helping organizations solve some of their toughest challenges,” said Val Walker, CEO of BHER, in a statement to The Ubyssey.

When asked about what inspired him to join the challenge, Walters, who completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry, said that he was interested in applying what he’d learned in practical aspects and merging the gap between business and science.

If SkillsX were to be implemented in a real-life setting, Walters hoped that it would provide technological literacy to employees as well as monitor trends and “help inform the creation of new programs in a university or post-secondary level, or how government funding is spent.”

“If they’re seeing that lots of people are lacking in maybe the sciences, well then more funding can go into science outreach and learning initiatives to promote interest in STEM.”

This article was updated to clarify Walters’ reasoning for joining the challenge.