Windsor Star

Can youth `army' bring digital tools to business?

- RYAN TUMILTY National Post­y

The Liberal budget has the money for an army of young people to aid small businesses transition­ing to the digital age, but it can't yet say when that “youth corps” will be deployed.

The budget put aside a total of $4 billion for a variety of measures aimed at helping businesses adapt to online sales. The Canada Digital Adoption program was part of that and received $1.4 billion over four years, including money to put 28,000 young Canadians on the government payroll and send them to small businesses looking to sell online.

Small Business Minister Mary Ng said the money is about getting local shops across the country online, to adapt to a new reality.

“We are in the digital economy, customers have changed their patterns because of COVID-19, and I don't want any Canadian businesses left behind,” she said.

The budget estimates that the money will be able to pay for the 28,000 trainers as well as for micro-grants to help small businesses cover some of the initial start-up costs.

The program builds on one run in Ontario called digital main street that helped small businesses start selling online last year during the pandemic.

Ng said she knows many businesses are already online, but there is more they can do. She also handles the trade portfolio and believes many businesses could go beyond just curbside pickup and into global sales.

The government doesn't yet have the details of when the program will start or who will be eligible. Ng said all of those details will be worked out. In addition to basic e-commerce sites, Ng said they're hopeful it could help companies with digital inventory and marketing systems as well.

Corinne Pohlmann, a senior vice-president at the Canadian Federation of Independen­t Business, said a lot of businesses could have used a program like this earlier in the pandemic and many made a swift transition online when their storefront­s were closed by public health measures.

“We saw it pretty much double in our membership. Prior to the pandemic, we had about 18 to 20 per cent who had e-commerce type platforms and were selling online. And that's doubled to about 40 per cent,” she said.

Pohlmann said the government program could still be a help to those that didn't make the move online or even to businesses that did and need more help.

A survey the CFIB did last month showed about 51 per cent of businesses in Canada saw e-commerce as essential to their business now and 48 per cent plan to keep selling online after the pandemic ends.

The survey also found that roughly 40 per cent of those small businesses that had set up online found attracting customers to their website as the biggest challenge.

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