The IT Talent Landscape in Vancouver and Toronto: Part 2

Long recognized as the hubs of tech in Canada, and often referred to as Silicon Valley North, Toronto and Vancouver are bustling with a varied and growing tech ecosystem that includes new enterprise as well as massive foreign-backed organizations.

In this environment, even companies that aren’t strictly speaking ‘technology companies’—think Uber, that has invested $200 million into its Canadian operations to add a new engineering hub—are being built on new and ever changing platforms, requiring investment and skill sets that are also relatively new.

Though Amazon decided to pass on making Toronto its second headquarters, other major organizations are seeing real value in doing business north of the border:

“Microsoft with $570 million of investments through relocating their Toronto headquarters, creating 1,000 new positions, and investing in other areas such as the Cascadia innovation corridor. NVIDIA announced an AI research centre and Intel announced a brand new graphics chip engineering lab. Accenture unveiled a new innovation hub in Toronto, adding 800 highly-skilled jobs. Instacart, Samsung, and Pinterest also announced plans to massively expand their presence in Canada.” (Source)

It all sounds good, but does Canada have the resources and talent pool that these expansions need? Yes, but it can always be improved.

STEM Education Need to be Disrupted

Existing tech companies are a little weary of some of these big players, as well as the hundreds of startups, moving into these two tech hubs because there will be an inevitable draw on their own talent pool.

In addition, while some people think that it’s ‘brain drain’—talent moving south of the border for better opportunities—that has caused a talent shortage, there is more at play. While “…Canada is still doing a lot of great work when it comes to bringing in talented immigrants who can fit into high-skill jobs, and Canadian cities are becoming increasingly attractive for outside talent…,” (Source) there is still a local talent shortage in hubs like Toronto and Vancouver due simply to demand.

Companies need more agility in their hiring and they need the people coming out of STEM programs to be ready to hit the ground running. Colleges and universities need to do a better job of aligning their programs with the needs of the industry; focusing on entrepreneurial skills, as well as the basic technology required.

Post-secondary education as it is now was developed to feed into organizations that are completely different from the tech companies of today; the skill set needed to deal with data instead of building widgets is a completely different process.

Front Line Tech Workers Aren’t the Only Scarce Resource

A 2015 article in the Globe and Mail touched on another interesting aspect of the talent pool issue in these two big tech hubs and that’s experienced senior-level executives.

All of the great ideas in the world turned into startup on cutting-edge technology platforms have a hard time growing to the behemoth potential of an Amazon or Apple without people to guide those ships who have long experience and talent. Without that help, and the resulting growth, a lot of potentially lucrative companies could sell or move.

“A thriving ecosystem… can’t “depend on the luck of having an outstanding entrepreneur come to your city and building a company. You need to get that channel going.” (Source)

What this all comes down to is that there is plenty of work for true talent, going beyond coders and including sales and marketing, people with true entrepreneurial spirit to embrace the ever-changing face of tech in these areas.

Core qualifications—software development and engineering—are a solid basis for a career in these two hubs. But there’s also room for improvement in education to see further development of the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.

This blog is part 2 in a 3-part series on The Tech Industry in Canada: Largest Growing Market.

Read Part 1: How The Gig Economy Is Changing The Canadian Tech Industry

Read Part 3: Labour and Skills Shortages Within Contract IT

Photo by Matt Pet on Unsplash