Attracting tech talent to Canada requires process and effort

Talent

Canadian cities are starting to pop up on global tech hub lists. For example, Toronto was recently named to Amazon’s HQ2 shortlist. 2017 also saw the largest total investment in Canadian startups in a decade, featuring a healthy dose of foreign investment. In past years, many Canadian startups flocked to the US for access to capital and mentorship. Now, many are clamouring to stay Canadian.

Canada has made great strides in attracting technology talent. The federal government last year announced a Global Skills Strategy for fast-track work visas and regular financial commitments to develop and invest in Canadian technology. These commitments sit on top of currently existing programs like IRAP or SR&ED.

However, Canada still suffers from a talent shortage. While Go North hopes to repatriate Canadian tech talent, and VC funds and angel investor groups use the Startup Visa program to support foreign talent looking to build companies in Canada, Canadian tech companies are also stepping up their game to recruit abroad.

Wanted: diverse local and global talent

Angela Hountalas, VP of People at Rangle, a Toronto product development firm, said that while recruiting within the Canadian ecosystem is important, companies that want to “truly diversify” must look to other markets as well.

With the evolution of the technology industry in Canada, there is also a need for a shift towards diversity; however, this doesn’t mean simply shifting talent between companies.

“We have what it takes to succeed. That’s the story potential investors don’t hear often enough around the world.”
– Bill Morneau

“When you’re trying to grow women in tech, stealing them from competitors is not going to grow the number,” Hountalas said. “The raw number will stay the same, they just move geographically.”

In order to shift towards true diversity in tech, there are multiple instances of Canadian companies recruiting from abroad, which as Intelex CEO Mark Jaine has said, not only brings new perspectives into the ecosystem but additional network benefits.

“My global idea is ensuring more global mobility of senior talent so they can move around the world – and to Toronto – to help build huge companies and seed home-grown talent,” Jaine said in an interview for Elevate Toronto.

“Toronto, for instance, is full of people who are passionate and excited but have never done it before. If you want to build a huge company here, you’re ultimately looking to the States for senior talent.”

Jaine himself is an immigrant to Canada from the US, and is now an advocate for Canadian tech. Homegrown entrepreneurs echo Jaine’s sentiments, noting that bringing smart minds to Canada has a compounding effect.

“When you bring in a smart person, other smart people want to work with them,” said Waterloo-based Vidyard founder Michael Litt at a Venture for Canada event last year.

If you want new talent, you have to show up

In order to find these great people and convince them to consider your company, let alone move to a new country, Hountalas said you have to make a compelling case. A company’s brand and marketing must support talent strategies to appeal to talent.

“If you want to be a magnet or have people consider you as a destination, you have to show up,” she said. “You have to leverage all the marketing tools you have… and you have to be inviting to new candidates.”

Mo Binni, a software developer at Rangle who moved to Toronto from Antwerp, Belgium, agreed with this sentiment, noting that he first learned about Rangle from a conference in Europe.

“Everyone who was doing Angular in Europe heard about Rangle through the grapevine,” Binni said. “Rangle sponsored a lot of events.”

The impact of Rangle’s presence didn’t merely come from a logo on a sponsor banner, however. Binni ran into Yuri Takhteyev, Rangle’s Chief Technology Officer, at the conference, leading them to talk about the process of moving to Canada for work.

Making talent investments pay off

Of course, to actually convince international talent to move to Canada, companies must be prepared to showcase the local experience to candidates.

In Binni’s case, he was already planning a trip to Toronto to see friends when he met with Rangle and started the interview process.

“So when I came over, I visited the company and talked to everyone,” he said. “[It] seemed like a great fit, and I made the decision that I wanted to move.”

While Binni’s personal experience was unique, Hountalas explained that Rangle now has official support for foreign workers, both before and after the offer stage.

canada

For instance, the company flew in an American candidate for a week, covering expenses and providing the opportunity to shadow Rangle employees, particularly leaders and those who would work on their team. Employees were also available to talk about city economics, like the rental market, transit, and overall cost of living.

At the end of the week, Rangle gave the candidate an offer, which they promptly accepted. Hountalas also noted that Rangle has post-arrival support to get new employees set up and comfortable.

“We provide location support, internal housing support, and give them someone to help with real estate decisions because the market is extremely competitive,” she said. “When you arrive you don’t have credit, documentation, references, etc. – that’s a big challenge. We had to get strategic about how we support people because otherwise they won’t land well.”

The process of bringing potential candidates in is expensive, but to Hountalas, it’s worth it.

“If you hired an agency, they would charge you 20 plus percent of the person’s salary,” she said. “When I did the math, flying a candidate to Toronto, putting them up in a hotel, and showing them the city was not a lot of money compared to an agency.”

Make Canada talent HQ

The Canadian ecosystem used to see a lot of organizations flocking south, but now we see headlines of big raises from companies choosing to keep their headquarters Canadian. Global names like Hootsuite and Shopify maintain headquarters in their founding cities – Vancouver and Ottawa, respectively – despite a worldwide presence.

This trend has continued with newer players like League, Lightspeed, and Element.ai – all raising large rounds of funding and choosing, some emphatically, to remain in Canada.

This shift to large companies maintaining headquarter offices here as they grow is crucial to overall ecosystem development and attracting foreign talent. While large regional offices provide jobs, strategic decisions are made at headquarters. When that decision-making power is in Canada, our entire ecosystem benefits from the wealth, professional development opportunities, and institutional knowledge growth that comes along with it.

Ben Bergen, Executive Director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, echoed this sentiment in statements on BNN’s #TheDisruptors on how the Startup Visa program could impact the ecosystem.

“That speed [of the fast-track visa] will really help make it more attractive for potential talent to come to Canada, and begin helping to grow our economy,” Bergen said.

Our government leaders also agree that foreign talent in a net positive on the ecosystem and the economy.

“We have what it takes to succeed. That’s the story potential investors don’t hear often enough around the world. We’re creating a new institution, the Invest in Canada hub, whose job it will be to sell Canada to the world,” said Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, said during the unveiling of the Global Skills Strategy.

“We want to support Canadian companies by ensuring that they have access to top talent and allow them to scale up, create good Canadian jobs, and thrive here.”

Photo by Nicole De Khors

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Toronto-based entrepreneur, advocate, and blogger passionate about inclusive design and tech. Blogging topics sit at the intersection of diversity & inclusion, tech empowerment, and connecting big business and startups through nonprofits. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios or send an email to stefan.palios@gmail.com.