Article: Vancouver facing shortfall of talent to fill tech jobs (Vancouver Sun)

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Vancouver will have more than 15,500 tech job openings between now and 2019, a recent report shows, which will intensify an already competitive job market that has companies fighting to attract new talent and keep employees from heading south of the border. 

“There are two different kinds of stories told with talent and tech,” said Ambrosia Humphrey, vice-president for talent at Hootsuite. “One is that there are too many people leaving and one is we’re bringing too many people in.”

“We feel the same kind of contradictory messaging. We definitely feel some of our employees are going south of the border for opportunities — the brain drain is very real.

“On the other side of it, we actually find it hard to bring in talent through immigration.”

Humphrey said because there aren’t a lot of headquarters here, there’s a disconnect between demand for senior leadership and the supply of people who can fill those roles.

“We need senior leadership. We need someone who has brought this across the line before. We need people who have taken companies public — that’s a big one for us,” said Humphrey, whose company has more than doubled in size since January 2014, growing from 360 to 782 employees, with 556 of those jobs in Vancouver.

Humphrey said Hootsuite is also developing talent here.

“I don’t want to drop a ceiling on everybody here who has worked for the past four years to build this company with us,” she said. “We’re constantly balancing.”

Potential employees look not only to a single company recruiting them, but to whether or not the sector has the critical mass to ensure there will be other opportunities should they want to change jobs.

“In terms of Vancouver as a magnet for talent, we think first of all Vancouver is a great city … a great place to live, but because of its tech hub, it’s also a great place for people who are the best and the brightest computer scientists around the world,” said Dennis Lopes, legal and corporate affairs director with Microsoft Canada.

“And as they look around at places where they may want to live, one of the considerations has to be the degree of flexibility that their new home will provide them in terms of alternative careers.”

“Having a tech hub in place already makes it an easier choice for folks who are looking to relocate here.”

The Microsoft Canada Excellent Centre, a research hub opening in the newly revamped Pacific Centre complex, will bring together “the best and the brightest minds” from around the world, Lopes said. The Excellence Centre will help strengthen the tech hub here and many of the people who work at it will choose to make Vancouver a permanent place to live, he said.

Microsoft has been given a labour market exemption for the new centre, which lets the company bring in foreign workers without having to conduct a labour market impact assessment for every position to see if there is a Canadian to fill the job.

Concerns over the shortage of tech talent are borne out by a study released last week by the Information and Communications Technology Council. The Council’s labour market outlook 2015-2019 shows there will be a shortfall of tech talent to fill jobs across Canada, with an estimated demand for 182,000 new people to fill jobs. According to the report, we’re not producing enough homegrown talent to meet the demand.

“Vancouver, and for that matter Canada, needs to produce more ICT professionals to meet the needs of the labour market,” Lopes said, a statement echoed by many in the sector.

“We have a shortage of talent,” said Bill Tam, president and CEO of the BC Technology Industries Association. “Finding people is by far and away, if not the top issue, certainly in the top two issues for tech companies,” he said, adding that the second issue is venture capital, especially for early-stage investment.

“I think the importance of the discussion is that we truly need to have many different ingredients to make a solid ecosystem here,” Tam said. “Some of that is building homegrown anchor success stories like HootSuite, Global Relay and Avigilon and Westport and companies like that. But you also have to bring in a mix of multinational firms, many of which have landed and grown here.”

Late last year, the BCTIA launched its Innovation Hub, aimed at helping emerging startup companies attract the talent they need in order to grow.

Vancouver’s Vision Critical has seen meteoric growth since it started in 2000 with five people. Today the company is one of Canada’s top software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies and it focuses on building cloud-based customer communities for companies. It has 360 of its 700 worldwide staff in Vancouver, with plans to hire another 50 here and 80 more across the country.

“The appetite for great talent is bottomless in software,” said Tyler Douglas, Vision Critical’s chief marketing officer. “It’s definitely a challenge.

“At some level businesses compete for the best talent, which is good for the city, good for the province and for the country.”

The announcement last week of $10.7 million in federal funding for an incubator program created by a partnership of Simon Fraser University, Ryerson University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology is expected to result in an additional 300 companies and more than 750 new direct jobs.

SFU president Andrew Petter said the program will leverage university research to drive job creation and economic growth in the private sector.

Petter said our companies tend to be branch plants of foreign-based companies and small and medium-sized companies often don’t have the critical mass and internal capacity to do research and development.

“What we’ve been trying to do at SFU and what Ryerson is doing in Toronto is using some really innovative models to try to show how university research and university capacity can have a much more direct impact on job growth and innovation in the private sector,” he said.