Canada is behind the curve when it comes to investing in ICT. Regional development agencies across Canada provide some support for innovation, but tech companies have to be competitive internationally to be successful, and Canadian CEOs continue to cite limited access to both capital and human resources as obstacles to success. This shortfall manifests in a number of ways. A lack of digital expertise can prevent innovation from being adopted in fields not traditionally considered to be part of tech. Plus, it is difficult to encourage local investment when “more than 53% of organizations cite attracting and retaining skilled employees as one of their top human capital challenges.”
It is difficult to encourage local investment in Canadian business when “more than 53% of organizations cite attracting and retaining skilled employees as one of their top human capital challenges.”
One way Canada can do that is by investing in the cross-disciplinary skill sets that are necessary for fledgeling startups to succeed (not to mention hard to find). Ensuring that recruiters have access to the talent pools they require to operate will go a long way to ensuring the success of Canada’s ICT sector. Tech bootcamps, like BrainStation, have a role to play in this, as relatively few post-secondary programs specialize in new and emerging tech skills, and existing programs have difficulty meeting the current demand for skilled tech workers. Boot camps use experts to quickly bring other workers up to speed using lightweight technical training with a focus on a few core skill sets, and can respond quickly to innovation within the tech industry.
I believe that an enthusiasm for data, for progress and innovation is a Canadian trait. In 2015, Canadian startup Shopify blew up into a multibillion-dollar international tech success story. Shopify was especially impressive, but it wasn’t Canada’s only success story – Canadian tech startups are punching above their weight internationally. Tech in Canada is showing a lot of promise, and in part because of that, venture capitalists spent more here in 2015 than they have in any other year in over a decade.
One such investor, Spear Street, anticipates enough small business tech growth that it invested over three million dollars in a property deal with BlackBerry for locations in Waterloo, Mississauga, and Ottawa. Spear Street Capital noted that “technology companies go through incredibly rapid change; they are adding or getting out of businesses all the time,” anticipating that new tenants will be excited to be “in these great locations close to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University—the talent generators that BlackBerry tapped into.” Communities that can sustain and nourish tech are magnets for investment, and education is a huge driver for creating those kinds of communities.
It is still true that a lot of skilled Canadians end up leaving Canada to seek opportunities elsewhere. Silicon Valley is the most obvious talent magnet – there are some 300,000 Canadians living in California. But we are also seeing an increasingly robust and tight-knit tech community that is interested in building opportunities here at home. Increasing globalization, and with it an increasingly international workforce, are realities that aren’t going away any time soon. Continuing to invest in our fledgling tech scene, and fostering digital talent at home, can ensure that Canada is a destination for skilled workers, rather than a victim of brain drain.