Company aims to develop hundreds of Aboriginal software testers

Written by David Bartlett, CBC News  (read original)

MIRAMICHI, NB - A company that hopes to eventually train hundreds of Aboriginal people to become software testers has opened a new office in Miramichi.

The Professional Aboriginal Testing Organization — or PLATO — is a sister company of the Fredericton-based software company Professional Quality Assurance (PQA).

The Miramichi office will be the third software-testing site in New Brunswick and the sixth across Canada for the company.

"We need people in New Brunswick, and we were trying to hire people for my own company, which is also a software testing company, and there just aren't enough [workers] out there," said Keith McIntosh, the founder of both PLATO and PQA.

He said before PLATO, most of the software testing work went out of the country.

McIntosh said the idea for PLATO came to him when he attended the Governor General's leadership conference last year and became more aware of some of the challenges First Nations communities face.

"We have a population in New Brunswick that is underemployed and we have a need [for workers] in a specific technology," he said.

McIntosh said the two issues seemed to fit well together.

"There's a market and a business plan that says we should have a 1,000 people across Canada in this company. That's sort of the goal for us."

In the short term, PLATO hopes to employ 250 people within the next three years.

Company offers 6-month training course

PLATO offers a six-month course to train First Nations people to become software testers and so far the course has been offered three times and will be offered twice more in Vancouver this fall.

"It's just been fantastic, it really has been, from the communities all across Canada that have been calling and asking to be part of it," said McIntosh.

But it's not just workers looking for opportunities. 

McIntosh said for the program to work, companies and corporations also have to come onside, and they have.

"The clients range from a mom and pop store to the biggest banks and retail outlets in North American," McIntosh said.

He said software testers evaluate things like websites, video content, e-commerce sites and other types of software.

McIntosh said the offices will be led and staffed by Aboriginal people.

There are 36 First Nations people already working for PLATO in New Brunswick, with about a dozen of them in Miramichi and the remainder working in Fredericton.

He said so far PLATO has had a positive social effect wherever the company has opened offices.

New office close to communities

Those offices, he said would employ about 50 people each and be located near First Nation communities, so workers can stay close to home. 

The Miramichi office is located near Eel Ground, Esgenoôpetitj and Metepenagiag First Nations.

Keith Joe from Esgenoôpetitj was one of the first PLATO testing employees and is now a team lead at the Miramichi office.

"PLATO Testing has brought me a career I can be proud of and make a difference in," he said in a news release. 

"The opportunity for me to work closer to home at the Miramichi office with other Aboriginal people in a high-tech industry has given me a great sense of purpose and drive for the future."

In May, Opportunities New Brunswick announced $982,000 for PLATO in the form of payroll rebates.

It was also announced last week that former premier Frank McKenna's Miramichi Technology Fund has become a strategic funding partner for PLATO, both regionally and across Canada.