In the midst of a talent shortage, how can Canada keep up with its tech sector growth?

Major tech companies are currently looking to hire tech talent in Canada, but with an ongoing digital skills shortage, the question arises: Does Canada have enough tech talent to sustain this growth? 

According to data from Salesforce Research in its Global Digital Skills Index 2022 report, 86 per cent of Canadians say they are not prepared to meet the digital skill requirements of the future. 

“2021 was a pretty banner year for investment in tech companies within Canada. Because of this, a lot of those companies were growing quite immensely and hiring tech talent… Everybody was fighting for more talent, and salaries have gone up considerably with the great resignation, so it’s kind of created this perfect storm of everybody’s searching for talent,” Jeremy Shaki, chief executive officer of Lighthouse Labs, a technology training company, said.

Recently, there has been much more investment into workforce development within the government sector, as well as other organizations focusing on putting money towards training their staff, Shaki said. 

More jobs than talent

However, a poll conducted by KPMG revealed that 80 per cent of the businesses surveyed say they need more workers with digital skills and two thirds of them are having trouble finding and hiring needed talent.

At the end of March, Meta announced it was expanding its Canadian presence with the creation of a new engineering hub based in Toronto, and plans to hire up to 2,500 employees for remote and in-office positions across Canada.

“There’s way more jobs at this point than talent. It’s just pushing everybody to have to put their cards on the table and go ‘okay, how do we fix these problems’?” Shaki said.

Aside from the general talent shortage, big tech’s continued move into Canada with job opportunities means small to medium sized businesses looking to hire face increased competition for talent from the deep-pocketed giants.

While technology companies already have a lot of tech talent and now need to raise salaries to retain it, non-traditional tech companies like banks and telecoms also struggle. 

“They’re not quite as appealing as Meta and Google. And so, they’re (SMBs) the ones I think, who get hurt in some ways the most when something comes like this… Some small to medium sized businesses just can’t afford that level of talent,” he said.

However, Shaki also notes that smaller Canadian startups are fostering significant talent and growth opportunities. In fact, an article from Forbes suggests that in the midst of The Great Resignation, many tech workers are leaving their big tech jobs for “cutting-edge startups”. 

Regardless of where tech workers decide to work, a talent shortage still plagues the industry. 

Lighthouse Labs has already seen a 45 per cent increase in applicants for its coding bootcamp since pre-pandemic, but more needs to be done to upskill and reskill Canadians to ensure the availability of the talent needed by big tech.

The solutions

So what are the solutions to this problem? 

Shaki believes the starting point is ensuring corporations have a “larger eye” towards the concept of hiring and then training within companies. 

“We have to blend a lot of the learning and workplace in a more meaningful way.”

In The Globe and Mail, Sheldon Levy, the interim president of University Canada West and special adviser to the Minister of Small Business & Export Promotion and International Trade, suggested that if Canada could build a talent pipeline capable of creating a surplus of skilled graduates, then the international tech sector would pursue Canadian talent. 

“Firms would compete against each other to locate here and create jobs here. And Canada’s global tech leadership would never be at risk,” Levy wrote in the article. 

Working with universities

Levy also said that training Canadians for these tech jobs must become an ongoing high priority for governments and universities. In addition, collaborating with industry as an academic partner to better understand what digital skills are needed in the current tech sector could be a solution. 

Other countries have adopted this approach to help train students. For example, George Mason University in the U.S. worked with AWS Educate curriculum designers to create a degree path that enhances technical skills in a more hands-on way. In Bahrain, the University of Bahrain launched a computing degree program to prepare the next generation of cloud professionals, in collaboration with AWS Educate’s Cloud Degree initiative. And in Malaysia, the Xiamen University Malaysia, announced plans in May 2020 to partner with Alibaba Cloud to launch the Alibaba Cloud Academic Empowerment Program.

This type of collaboration with universities is also starting to take off in Canada.

For example, Microsoft Canada and AltaML are part of a program at the University of Waterloo in Ontario to help students build in-demand tech skills.

In addition, in 2021, Microsoft announced it was expanding its Canada Skills Program, a program that helps students acquire in-demand cloud, data and AI skills, to eight more post-secondary schools. 

Training courses within schools are also continuing to grow. Athabasca University has started to offer a training program in AI Ethics, Ryerson University is offering cybersecurity skills training, and Carleton University is offering a STEM program for women. 

Outside of school, organizations have also started to focus on training their staff, and federal and provincial governments are looking to offer more opportunities for people to strengthen their tech skills. 

“Look at the amount of money that’s been going into things like training over the past couple of years, whether it’s helping underrepresented people get into these spaces, there’s major, major dollars coming from the federal and Ontario government. This is what it’s for.” Shaki said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formally known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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