Is it truly Canada’s time to lead the global tech community, as our southern neighbour looks inward? A pioneering spirit is built into our culture. It remains to be seen whether this time will be a missed opportunity.
Then again, perhaps we’re missing the story by looking at too big a picture, country-wide: Vancouver Economic Commission’s It’s Your Move to Make campaign is trying to show what’s possible when we think global, act local.
“We get a lot of questions around how easy it is to immigrate here and people anywhere are concerned about that.”
One sign of Vancouver’s rising tech sector is the rising salaries of tech workers, which are going up faster in British Columbia than anywhere else in Canada. Of course, that wage hike corresponds to something else: heightened competition for talent in a city that just isn’t pumping out enough skilled grads fast enough to meet market demand.
VEC’s proactive approach was to build an app, Vancouver CareerScout, helping tech workers in other cities easily track new opportunities in this city. Users sign up, answer 10 career-oriented questions, and connect their profiles with opportunities from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon, as well as local success stories like BuildDirect and ACL.
Building the platform was just the start, though. In September and October, the VEC campaign ran live events in San Francisco and Seattle, with meet-and-greet sessions with promising tech workers and the Vancouver-based companies doing the hiring. D-Wave, Amazon, and BuildDirect were among these companies.
Over 150 targeted tech experts have signed up for CareerScout thus far; intriguingly, nearly two-thirds of those sign-ups came after the US election, as Silicon Valley CEOS have officially — if somewhat prematurely — hit the panic button.
That may not sound like huge numbers yet, but the platform is not targeting the mainstream – a few hundred software engineers and other tech specialists can have an outsized impact in this hub. Certainly, the results are robust enough that VEC is already looking into how it can step up the effort in 2017.
“A lot of people weren’t aware of how the Vancouver ecosystem had developed and that we had so many growing companies.”
If the campaign is the push, what’s the pull for tech workers to come to Vancouver? “Record job growth in Vancouver – the fastest-growing economy in Canada – can also be attributed to our city being recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities, our proximity to the Asia Pacific and Silicon Valley, and a supportive policy and fiscal framework at all levels of government,” said VEC CEO Ian McKay recently.
The campaign’s face-to-face outreach is helping that message get through, said VEC director of marketing and research Tania Parisella. “A lot of people weren’t aware of how the Vancouver ecosystem had developed and that we had so many companies who were growing.”
Vancouver already had some street cred among the tech workers contacted through the networking events, but some also had concerns. “We get a lot of questions around how easy it is to immigrate here and people anywhere are concerned about that,” Parisella added. “Questions around real estate have come up on occasion – though we’ve been able to counter that perception with some of the measures the city and province have put forward around housing.”
While VEC’s representatives at the events expected affordability to be a hurdle for prospective job seekers, it has actually been less of an issue. Parisella recalled asking questions to embassy contacts in France over the summer, as they were trying to recruit overseas: “I asked if affordability comes up. But a person living in Paris’ tech hub knows they have to pay that kind of price. Sometimes you’re in your own bubble. It doesn’t come up as much as we feared. The topic of affordability did come up in San Francisco, but it’s actually a reverse conversation, since it can be more expensive to live there.”