BC’s tech leaders pen open letter to Premier Christy Clark on the province’s talent shortage

Earlier this year, the British Columbia government revealed that it was creating a $100 million venture fund dedicated to encouraging growth in the tech sector, as well as a larger innovation strategy that includes integrating coding into the K-12 curriculum.

A recent open letter from BC’s tech leaders, however, says that talent shortages are a major hurdle to capitalizing on the success of this strategy. The letter includes signatories like EA Studios senior vice president Matt Bilbey, Vision Critical founder and CPO Andrew Reid, and Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes.

The letter, published in full by The Daily Hive, says that competition for talent is fierce across the world as more sectors embrace tech. “Streamlined immigration and training can help. But there’s only one long-term solution: ensuring that our own colleges and universities are educating students for tomorrow’s careers,” it reads.

The letter recommends investing $100 million to expand tech-related postsecondary programs, implementing mandatory co-ops in postsecondary programs, and building more awareness for jobs in tech.

“The province’s generous commitment to invest $100 million in early-stage companies through the BC Tech Fund may not be fully leveraged without a comparable investment in education,” the letter reads. “We encourage the government to expand its awareness campaign for jobs in tech, to invest in a multi-channel approach similar to the campaigns to promote the trades, and to build on laddering pathways to bridge the transition gap between high-school and post-secondary to prepare students for careers in tech.”

The full list of signatories includes:

Ryan Holmes, CEO – Hootsuite
Edoardo de Martin, Director – Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre
Igor Faletski, CEO – Mobify
Jeff Booth, CEO – BuildDirect
Allen Eaves, CEO – Stemcell Technologies
Gordon Nelson, VP – BC Rogers Communications
Michael Gokturk, CEO – Payfirma
Jonathan Lutz, CFO – Electronic Arts
Erkan Akyuz, President – McKesson Technology Solutions
Jill Tipping, CFO & VP Operations – Schneider Electric
Andrew Reid, Founder & CPO – Vision Critical
Kirsten Sutton, Managing Director – SAP Labs
Matt Bilbey, SVP & Group GM – EA Studios
Barry Ward, President – Bardel Entertainment Inc.
David Demers, CEO – Westpoint Fuel Systems Inc.
Rick Perreault, CEO – Unbounce
Bill Tam, CEO – BC Tech Association
Norman Hannaford, GM – Surveillance and Intelligence MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor.

  • Sadly I have to disagree. BC has more than enough talent, but recruiters either have no technical knowledge, or the companies are too strict in the hiring process and sometimes picky. On the other hand, Toronto (as a Canadian example) is way less strict in expectations and has a way higher salary range. So if BC (AND Vancouver) want to compete, the whole hiring process needs to change, and the province really needs to think it salary scale.

    • Mark Sterling

      I do a ton of work within the recruitment space in the Toronto Tech and community. As a specialist in this area, Toronto can pay more but, I disagree in terms of strict hiring processes. Look at all of the great Tech schools producing strong developers every year (Waterloo, UofT, York, Ryerson, UOIT.) Saying this, Toronto’s Tech community is flourishing with talent so a lot of my clients are utilizing long-winded technical tests and case studies in order to locate the TOP people. Then again, we flourish with Junior talent, not so much Senior.

      • I agree with everything you just mentioned. But when you get rejected for having 2.5 years of experience in something and not 3, that’s strict. I spent the last 3 months applying for jobs in the tech industry in BC, and the last 2 weeks in Toronto. Toronto is way “nicer” in the hiring process. meaning, recruiters actually talk to you and understand what you’re looking for. whether it was a recruitment agency or a company. here in BC, you’ll be VERY lucky if someone actually answered your application even if it was to say that they’re not going forward. In addition, for the same position I apply for here in Vancouver, I am seeing 2.5 if not more the salary for Toronto.

        • Kim Portnoy

          While I cannot comment on how strict companies are around people with less experience, I can comment on the opposite end of the spectrum. As someone with almost 2 decades of tech experience, and having spent most of my career working NYC I am saddened by the tech scene in BC. It seems experience is not valued in BC, at all. Even I have a very hard time getting interviews and when I do the salaries that are discussed are disgusting. They’re definitely not in line with the cost of living in a city such as Vancouver, and they’re definitely not in line with other tech hubs in Canada let alone the States. Why would anyone want to spend months looking for a job in Vancouver and get paid very little, when they can easily apply to other areas where the pay is 2-4x higher. We don’t need to train more people, we need to figure out a way to retain the talent we have.

  • Stephen Price

    I take some issue with the above letter.

    It is interesting to see mandatory co-op as a suggestion. Having worked for some time at SFU Applied Sciences, a program with mandatory co-op requirements for Engineering students, I can say that industry does not seem to have a willingness to support a mandatory co-op model. There were some students who found it incredibly difficult to find a co-op placement. The Faculty was actively discussing abandoning the mandatory co-op due to the major headaches caused by students not being able to find work in a timely way. Industry seemed mostly interested in the top quartile or perhaps just above median students. If you were in the bottom quartile of the class, you weren’t particularly employable and mandatory co-op programs don’t help.

    Echoing the comments below, in my experience talking to industry reps in Vancouver about what they wanted to see from the university, they wanted avenues to the top performers. It seemed to me – and I didn’t do exhaustive research and am happy to be corrected – that folks in industry didn’t need more graduates, they needed more top performers. These are two very different things and you can spend a lot of money creating more quantity when really what you need is more quality. That said, if you build your business on the model that you will only succeed if you manage to attract a workforce who are in the top 10% of their field, then you will find it very hard to find enough top talent.

    Further to the challenge in finding quality, it was a common perception among my advisees that working in tech in Vancouver was a lifestyle choice for which you needed to take a salary hit. A lot of the very top end graduates took offers out of BC as they were much better paid. This is fine so far as it goes, but to me this suggests that industry doesn’t need more government spending on the talent pipeline, they need to pay prevailing market rates similar to Toronto and San Francisco to attract top talent, or they need to build organizations that don’t require top talent.

    Easier said than done, of course, but defining the problem correctly is the first step to defining viable solutions.

  • Dieter Morgan

    I’ve been working in the tech industry in Vancouver for 17 years. I have never seen the IT job market as it is right now with so many unfilled employment opportunities.Experienced people are constantly fielding unsolicited calls and emails from tech requiters.The problem is the high cost of living here,particularity housing.It can be difficult find a rental unit in Vancouver,even if you have the money there’s a serious lack of availability. Someone just of school trying to get their carrier started will quickly realize the futility of trying to get ahead here and simply leave. Similarly people who are experienced and more advanced in their career can easily transition to other more lucrative job markets. Toronto and the US tech areas pay higher salaries and in some cases have a lower cost of living.What we have here is a brain drain, that is directly related to the low salaries and high cost of living in Vancouver.