Competition for talent intensifying in the Ontario creative tech sector: ICTC study

Ontario’s creative tech sector is booming, with talent demand on the rise despite economic headwinds, new findings from a ICTC (The Information and Communications Technology Council) survey revealed.

The creative tech sector  brings together elements of computer science, design, art, entertainment, and social sciences, and has particularly seen notable growth in areas like video games, immersive technology, and esports. 

For this study, ICTC interviewed educators representing universities, colleges, and training institutions, and surveyed employers from small and large studios across creative tech industries in Ontario. Data also came from an industry roundtable and web scraping of in-demand jobs and skills.

Most respondents were from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Outside the GTA, responses  came from areas including Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, Ottawa and London.

Competition for talent, the report reads, takes place at the “intersection of where a studio is on its growth trajectory, where it is located, and the type of other studios it competes with.”

As a result, studios compete with one another, with bread-and-butter tech companies, and with other industries that are digitizing (e.g. manufacturing, energy transportation, etc.).

Larger studios hire more talent, spanning technical, artistic and creative roles and expect to continue to do so over the next three years.

Smaller studios, which tend to be at a disadvantage in the competitive talent market, can instead focus on showcasing the type of work that they do, explained Alexandra Cutean, chief research officer at ICTC. Smaller studios often commercialize their intellectual property, which gives talent the opportunity to work on innovative projects, she added.

Studios should also position themselves as providing opportunities for growth and career advancement, and offer more general roles so that employees can dip their toes into various areas and acquire diverse work experience, Cutean stated.

However, the region where the studio is located can further limit access to talent. The highway corridor between Toronto and Waterloo is the most competitive, as it hosts Ontario’s largest concentration of tech firms and employs approximately 200,000 technology sector workers.

Accordingly, 65 per cent of surveyed employers from the creative tech sector in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor (‘the Corridor’) believe that their region does not have enough qualified labour to meet demand. The talent shortage in the sector is expressed across all creative tech occupational categories.

On the other hand, employers surveyed in cities outside of the GTA and Kitchener-Waterloo relayed more of a balance; over 10 per cent of employers felt that talent availability “exceeded demand” and 54 per cent said talent availability is “adequate.”

As a result, studios are looking for talent outside the region, and that’s where remote work comes into play, said Cutean. It might not be ideal, especially for studios that have IP considerations or are recruiting on a work for hire basis, but a lot of them are looking at general trends in the labour market and are willing to consider hybrid models.

Despite the concentration of studios in those regions, Cutean contended that there is a lot of value in continuing to build those ecosystems.

“We’re potentially heading into a recession, people want to know that they have other opportunities, so having this larger cluster of studios is important. Also, the other ecosystem elements that come along with that corridor play a key role in having access to a readily available junior talent pipeline through very strong academic institutions and to access general investment that’s made in that region. So, I do think that ultimately, the concentration is there for a reason.”

Nonetheless, the report shows that inside the Corridor, the quality of senior level talent is deemed by 30 per cent of respondents to be poor or very poor. 

The talent gap is further worsened by an imbalance in the interconnectedness of senior and junior talent, which causes bottlenecks. One surveyed video game developer stated, “If you want to engage new people fresh out of school, you need to have the support structure in place. You need to have the senior people to mentor them.”

Industry experts highlight a lack of soft skills at different levels of talent, including senior staff. This has prompted studios to create two tracks for senior staff: the senior technical-track, where individuals are expected to work in a solo capacity or as an in-house technical expert; and senior leadership-tracks, where individuals are expected to possess strong technical skills but also mentor staff and lead teams.

COVID 19 has further exacerbated the disconnect between senior and junior talent, especially for creative tech studios that pride themselves on creating a fun and creative work environment. ICTC points to research by Dropbox that surveyed 4,000 workers from seven countries, including Canada, stressing that remote and distributed work can boost productivity, but true innovation is blocked by a lack of human connection.

The talent crunch and post-pandemic effects are expected to stabilize over the next three years, ICTC revealed. Cutean, however, said that demand for talent in the creative industries will remain high.

“When we take a more holistic picture, we still do believe that the demand for talent and high quality employment opportunities within the sector remain quite high in Ontario. It is one of the main clusters across Canada that are really leading the charge in creative tech.”

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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