How TECHNATION thinks we can solve Canada’s tech talent gap

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Canadian companies have over 40,000 open tech roles–and they needed them filled yesterday.

As startups grow, funding and talent are two core needs. While easy access to capital has waxed and waned since the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for talent seems to only grow larger.

Data from TECHNATION, a member organization of Canadian tech companies that bridges the tech industry and government policy, shows that Canadian firms have over 40,000 vacant positions that they need to fill as soon as possible.

Speaking with BetaKit, TECHNATION Executive Director for the Future Workforce Development Team, Sandi Campbell, shared more about the root causes of Canada’s tech talent gap and offered a solution for organizations looking for talent.

A sudden surge in digital demand

After Campbell joined TECHNATION in 2019, she began connecting with members to understand their talent challenges. Shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated almost every organization’s digital needs, which exacerbated talent gaps.

“The digitalization of the marketplace really went straight uphill during COVID,” said Campbell. “Companies that never dreamed that they would need a digital infrastructure needed a digital infrastructure to survive.”

Canada’s talent supply and demand issues are compounded by a population that is both “aging and shrinking at the same time.”

Accelerated digitization during COVID increased demand for software (and tech talent), but Campbell said three other factors pushed it beyond the boiling point in Canada. First, major technological advancements such as generative AI, quantum computing, and IoT meant large companies had an even greater need for talented people to keep up with new developments.

Second, the remote and hybrid work boom initiated by the pandemic has made it easier for deep-pocketed global firms to lure talented people with high salaries—a global problem that Campbell noted is especially true in Canada. For recent immigrants to Canada, that might start with remote work but could turn into a cushy, high-paying job with a relocation allowance to return to their home country.

“Because our education system is so strong, because we draw from an immigration perspective, some of the best of the best coming here for that education; often they’ll stay here and work for a little while,” Campbell said. “But as the opportunities come up, if they go through those multinationals, they get plucked to go back home to work.”

“We know because of competition, whoever’s got the deepest pockets is going to attract the best talent,” she continued. “And so it becomes harder and harder for companies to become competitive and draw in that talent.”

Campbell added that these talent supply and demand issues are compounded by a Canadian population that is both “aging and shrinking at the same time.” It’s a complicated mix that poses significant challenges for the future.

ADaPTing to a new reality

Putting global macroeconomic shifts aside, there are employer-level issues as well. Campbell noted for example that employers, particularly smaller startups, want talent that already has some basic skills.

“A lot of employers have the ability to train people but what they likely would rather do is customize that training to their own products or services and way of doing things,” said Campbell.

In some ways, it’s a pipeline issue: there are relatively limited numbers of students going through tech-focused university programs, so the competition for that talent is fierce. But the tech ecosystem also needs people with a wide range of skills. The result is a gap not just in talent in raw numbers, but in upskilling or building specific skills that tech companies need in employees.

Over 1,300 students have gone through the ADaPT program across its four locations with a nearly 90 percent job placement rate.

This is where programs like Advanced Digital and Professional Training (ADaPT) can add value. The program, funded by the Future Skills Centre and delivered in partnership with Toronto Metropolitan University’s Diversity Institute and TECHNATION, is geared toward new university graduates from any program, including non-technical fields, who want to focus on skills development and build marketable skill sets to thrive in Canada’s labour market. Through ADaPT, candidates are offered end-to-end training (around 70 hours total over 10-12 weeks) at no cost to the students.

The ADaPT training covers a wide range of skills—created in consultation with tech industry employers—like Excel, coding fundamentals, data analytics, SEO and Google Analytics, design thinking, UX fundamentals, and ‘soft’ skills like communications and networking.

After the course is finished, the ADaPT program leaders make introductions to potential employer partners, giving “high-touch support” such as interview prep and direct participant-employer matching. They have similar resources for employers, helping them source candidates from the ADaPT program. So far, Campbell said over 1,300 students have gone through the program across its four locations (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia) with a nearly 90 percent job placement rate.

“So far, through all the recruitment channels, ADaPT has been the best at finding us professionals with shared values and passions for our business,” said Barron Pan, Co-founder of Plantish and an ADaPT employer partner. “The ADaPT team vigorously evaluates and recommends candidates whose skillsets fit our business’ needs and company culture.”

There are also wage subsidies available for employers who hire through the ADaPT program, delivered through TECHNATION’s Career Ready Program, which is funded as part of the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP). Employers can access up to $7,000 to pay 50 percent of a student’s wages, with each employer being able to apply for up to five students.

“The 70 hours of training allows them a wide breadth of direct tech experience as well as business training and prepares them to be able to enter into the workforce relatively smoothly with little or no customized training from the employer required after the fact,” Campbell said.

Ongoing education

Beyond helping individuals build the skills they need to land a job in the tech industry, TECHNATION is also committed to ongoing organizational support. The result is LaunchPad, a free online academy with continuing education for both employers and students.

For employers, it offers courses on subjects like performance management, building your network, supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, giving effective feedback, accessible hiring practices, and effective mentorship. For students, courses are available on topics like building resiliency, time management, business writing, and project management.

This is all part of a broader workforce development effort by governments at all levels, going beyond simply teaching people skills and instead helping build a whole ecosystem—one that supports employers and individuals with market-validated support along the way.

“They’re available free for that person to do online at any time themselves,” said Campbell. “So they can just drop in, visit our site and start working through the module themselves.”

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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