The Canadian technology sector continues to thrive through the pandemic, yet the ongoing shortage of qualified workers remains a tough challenge.

The latest labour force survey from Statistics Canada reports that employment in professional, scientific and technical services increased again between February and March, and was up six per cent since February 2020, before the pandemic really hit the Canadian economy. 

A report from job-search site Indeed Canada says the number of tech-job postings to its platform increased by 30 per cent since before the pandemic. Waterloo Region saw a larger percentage increase in tech postings over the same period – 30 per cent – than other hubs such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Another indication of the frothy job market is this week’s Tech Jam from Home, the largest virtual tech-job fair in Canada. The Communitech-led event, which runs Thursday, April 22 from noon until 5 p.m, features 51 companies, a combined 2,777 job openings and more than 1,000 job seekers.

Still, many tech companies across the country are reporting a shortage of qualified workers.

“It’s challenging,” says Judy Hutchison, Director of Recruiting for cybersecurity company Arctic Wolf Networks, a supporting partner in the Tech Jam from Home job fair.

The company – headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn. with operations in Waterloo and Provost, Utah, and employees in the Toronto, Halifax and San Antonio, Tex. areas – nearly doubled its workforce last year. It plans to double again in the fiscal year that starts May 1, growing from the current 750 employees to 1,500 overall. Much of the growth will be in R&D, including at its Waterloo location.

What makes hiring a challenge, says Hutchison, is stiff competition for a relatively small pool of qualified talent, especially in cybersecurity. That competition has intensified due to the pandemic-fuelled remote-work phenomenon, which has enabled employers in other regions and countries to compete for talent in markets they didn’t previously target.

Arctic Wolf has been successful at recruiting by staying competitive with compensation and training opportunities, developing a strong co-op program and by keeping the work engaging and satisfying for employees, says Hutchison.

For example, she says Arctic Wolf gives its R&D staff opportunities to be involved in solving challenges, contributing to product development and “thinking proactively about the big picture.”

In another example, Head of Communications Dan Deeth says Arctic Wolf’s “concierge” service model has small teams of two or three employees working with assigned clients so that the employees and the clients develop a working relationship. 

“We get to offer employees more of a consultative experience, which is so much more rewarding,” he says. “You realize that you're making a difference for customers, you're making them more secure.”

From a national perspective, Canadian companies must become more competitive with their U.S. counterparts on a range of issues, including the hiring of tech talent, says Charles Plant, a Toronto-based innovation economist who has been conducting research into the out-migration, or brain drain, of Canadian tech talent to the United States.

Plant’s findings reveal a surprisingly overlooked fact: There are 59 per cent more graduates from Canadian universities in the U.S. working in roles to commercialize technology than there are in roles to create technology. 

These non-technical employees include those who have experience with the process of commercializing intellectual property, as well as those with a strong knowledge of target markets.

As part of his research, Plant looked at the reasons why Canadian-trained professionals leave the country to work in the U.S. tech industry. He cites:

  • Higher salaries.
  • The potential for greater career experience, given the size of many U.S. tech companies.
  • The prestige of having a brand-name employer on your resume.
  • The “cool” factor of living and working in a place such as the Bay Area.
  • The fast, aggressive way that U.S. tech firms recruit talent.

Why is all of this important?

Plant emphasizes the connections between strong intellectual property strategies, talent retention, job creation and prosperity.

“Canada’s ability to compete is at the heart of the brain-drain issue,” he says. “It really doesn’t matter the extent of the brain drain; what matters is what it means. And what it means is that Canadian companies are not as competitive as U.S. companies when it comes to hiring. The consequences are considerable: losing talent – especially those who know how to commercialize intellectual property – strikes at the heart of a nation’s ability to compete, create jobs and ensure long-term prosperity.”