SDG Impact Icons: Keith McIntosh
“If you have internet access, you can bring work to wherever people are.”
In partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada, each month, Startup Canada is celebrating and putting the spotlight on a leading Canadian social innovator driving change in one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Startup Canada was pleased to speak with Keith McIntosh, Founder of PLATO Testing to learn about their impact on SDG 8—Decent Work and Economic Growth.
Keith McIntosh has led his award-winning software testing company, PQA Testing, from his home province of New Brunswick for more than 20 years. He has grown the company into a multi-million-dollar organization with 9 offices across Canada, and a team of more than 140 professionals who provide quality testing services to customers both at home and abroad.
In 2015, following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and his participation in the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, Keith founded PLATO Testing, the world’s first Indigenous-led and staffed software testing company. His goal was to address two important issues: Canada’s shortage of technology workers and the high rates of unemployment among Indigenous youth.
SC: In one sentence, what does PLATO Testing do?
KM: PLATO Testing is a software testing company that provides training for unemployed or underemployed First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada, and gives full-time employment to people who complete the training.
SC: How does your work advance SDG 8—Decent Work and Economic Growth?
KM: We’re creating opportunities for people who aren’t in IT to get into the field and we’re taking the field to where they are.
In IT, there are thousands of unfilled jobs, but it’s the type of work that can be done from anywhere. So why are the Indigenous peoples not more engaged than they are? As long as you have an Internet connection, we can take the work to Northern Alberta, or Northern New Brunswick—it doesn’t have to be done in downtown Toronto or downtown Calgary.
We looked at what the barriers are, why Indigenous people aren’t engaged and said—look, we can build a training program, we can take it to where they are, and if they complete the training, we can take the work to where people are.
SC: What motivated you to build PLATO Testing?
KM: I run a company called PQA Testing that we built 20 years ago, and the original idea was to bring work to New Brunswick—taking the call center idea a bit further. If you can bring call center work to a remote place like New Brunswick, you can do the same with software testing.
We have a migrating population and an ageing population; we needed more workers; we needed more opportunities. IT has that.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Report came out, the challenges of Indigenous people in Canada were highlighted. The fastest-growing demographic is young Indigenous people and we don’t have enough people in IT—so why not try and marry the two and work together?
SC: What’s the impact that you’ve had that you’re the proudest of?
KM: We have run this course now 14 times. We’ve trained over 150 people. We’ve provided over 1,800 months of full-time employment for 150 people from over 45 different communities across Canada. We’ve created over $7 million in salaries that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We’re clearly having an impact. It’s a repeatable process. We’ve done it 14 times in downtown Toronto, Sault Sainte Marie, northern New Brunswick and all over the country.
SC: What inspires you to keep going?
KM: It’s a big problem that we’re just starting to solve. We’re moving the bar a little bit further ahead. But it can be done and repeated all over the place. Many people need an opportunity that just maybe isn’t there for them right now.
We’re, of course, focused in Canada, but I’ve had several inquiries from Australia. We’ve looked at the opportunity to bring the model to Australia because they have a lot of the same challenges we have in Canada with regard to their Indigenous population.
But it’s not just Canada or Australia. It’s not just Indigenous people, it could be inner-city youth or Caribbean island youth—any places where opportunities are more scarce. If you have internet access, you can bring work to wherever people are.
SC: What is the next mountain you are climbing and what is left undone?
KM: The immediate challenge we have is how to scale it up. PQA and PLATO together are about 200 people. We’re starting to get traction into bigger companies and bigger opportunities.
The mountain is how do we scale from 14 classes in five years to 10 classes a year? And how do we scale from 150 people trained to 300, 400 people?
SC: What’s been your biggest learning along the way?
KM: In Canada, it’s not just one group—Indigenous peoples are six-hundred-and-some different communities. Each one has different challenges. There’s not one cookie-cutter answer, you have to deal with each group and each person on an individual basis. You can’t just apply a template, you have to have an idea of a template that’s adjustable to the situation that people are in.
I’ve also learned that a lot of us take the support infrastructure that we have for granted. If something goes wrong—if my car breaks down, I can get someone. If my babysitter’s away, I have a family infrastructure. I have a social infrastructure. I have economic advantages, and I know people who work in all these places.
SC: What is your big vision for Canada and the World over the next 20 years?
KM: There are some really big challenges and problems. Whether it’s Indigenous reconciliation in Canada or the environment—you look at those problems and they’re too big to fix. But if everybody does one little thing that moves the bar just a little bit further, it makes it better for the next person.
We’re going to have to see that you can’t wait for the knight in shining armour to wave a magic wand and fix it. People like Greta Thunberg; little people are going to step up and say something, and it’s gonna just move the bar a little bit further—and I think there’s more acceptance of that now. Progress is incremental.
Don’t let why you can’t do something get you down. It’s the, how can I do something—that you worry about.
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