By Rosa Saba
On a winter day in Kanata North, red signs outside You.i TV’s office proclaim, “We’re hiring!”
You.i TV isn’t the only Kanata North company with big growth plans. But many tech firms are finding it harder than it used to be to find the talent they need.
STEM jobs are growing faster than any other sector in Canada, with demand increasing by 4.6 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent overall, according to the latest census data. But less than a quarter of students are graduating with STEM degrees, and the gap between need and talent is growing.
According to a 2017 study by the Information and Communications Technology Council, by 2021 the demand for new tech workers will have reached 216,000 nationally. This means companies across Canada are vying for the talent they need to grow.
Real estate services firm CBRE reported that Ottawa had the highest concentration of tech talent in the country in 2017, beating even Toronto. Ottawa’s talent is educated, but expensive, even though the city boasts lower rent and home ownership costs than Toronto or Vancouver.
“It’s a highly competitive, day-to-day fight for talent. Not only in Ottawa, but in tech in general,” says Amy MacLeod, corporate diversity officer and vice-president of strategic communications at Mitel. “You must constantly look and assess to make sure that you have those next-gen skills.”
Despite the challenges, companies in Canada’s largest technology park are hiring, often with great success.
Research and consulting firm Syntronic opened its Kanata location in 2014 with just 20 people, says president Hans Molin, who was responsible for launching the location.
Between 2016 and today, the firm has grown from under 30 employees to 260, and they’re still hiring – Molin says he expects the headcount to double in the next three years. With an extra 6,000 square feet recently added to the firm’s previous 22,000, and another 12,000 available for fitting up, Molin is confident in Syntronic’s growth trajectory.
“We are very good at hiring people and keeping people,” he says.
But before a company can even think about extending a job offer and working to retain that employee for the long term, hiring managers need to find those skilled professionals.
And, in a tight labour market here at home, that has many looking to recruit talent from not only outside Ottawa, but beyond Canada’s borders.
One tool that Syntronic has successfully leveraged is the Global Talent Stream, a federal pilot program aimed at helping Canadian companies recruit international talent faster. It’s specifically targeted at those companies that need highly skilled foreign nationals for unique and specialized skills in order to scale up and grow.
Molin says the Global Talent Stream has been “very successful” for Syntronic, reducing hiring times from months to weeks.
Beyond prompting hiring managers to think internationally, Molin says the talent shortage is affecting workplaces in another way: “We can see headhunters are more
aggressive in approaching our people,” he says.
But rather than taking a defensive posture in response, Molin says it’s an opportunity to think more about how to keep employees engaged – a process that can even start before an employee’s first day of work.
Molin says it’s important to keep the hiring process efficient, while allowing candidates to meet as many people as possible and really get a feel for the company’s workplace culture.
“Competence attracts competence,” he says. “We’re hiring our people full-time
and we keep them busy.”
Steve Stanley, founder and managing partner of Kanata firm Newfound Recruiting, agrees that in a competitive market, tech firms need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Stanley says his firm has been much busier as companies look for help finding employees. He finds himself advising companies to do more to differentiate themselves – workplace culture is key, and social media is the best tool to advertise your company’s culture.
“You’re not just interviewing candidates anymore,” explains Stanley. “The candidates are interviewing you.”
Stanley says it’s also important for companies to connect with local post-secondary institutions, piquing the interest of STEM students before they graduate with co-op placements and job fairs.
Policymakers and major Kanata employers are paying more attention to developing and nurturing this pool of future job-seekers. In February, BlackBerry QNX said the company will receive $40 million in federal funding to support close to 1,000 co-op placements over the next decade, as well as to add 800 jobs.
Tech companies also increasingly have diversity on the radar: Ottawa’s tech talent pool is less than a quarter female, according to the CBRE report. Skilled immigrants can also face obstacles in getting themselves into the job market.
For example, Henry Akanko, director of Hire Immigrants Ottawa, says that many companies have “a lack of awareness of the changing demographics and the
“This is usually shown in the type of recruitment processes and practices that (companies) have,” he says, adding that some of these practices are now falling
short. Hire Immigrants Ottawa helps employers address the barriers they face
in hiring and integrating immigrants into their workforce.
“It’s hard for somebody who is new to the city to know all the employers,” he adds,
recommending that firms review their policies and practices to identify gaps.
Beyond more tech talent, a diverse talent pool brings a wide range of ideas and perspectives, as well as nuanced skill sets, says Akanko. “These are people you can tap into from all parts of the world.”
MacLeod says one of the ways Mitel is trying to widen its hiring net is by closely examining the language of their job descriptions, as well as making a diverse set of employees part of the hiring process.
“There are subtle things you can do that make people feel included,” she says, adding the company has “just scratched the surface.”
MacLeod says it’s also important to explore different avenues for job advertising, and adds the company is exploring the possibility of partnerships with organizations that help new immigrants. As a global company, she says diversity is inherent in Mitel and an asset to the firm.
“We’re used to working across cultures,” she says.
Molin agrees, adding that any tech company can benefit from a workforce that represents its clients.
“Tech is global,” he says. “Tech in Canada would not be where it is if we didn’t have that foreign talent.”
Despite the competitive nature of the tech talent world, Molin says Syntronic puts a lot of effort into supporting organizations such as Invest Ottawa, and the Kanata North Business Association in the hopes of building up a robust community of tech talent from which all companies can benefit.
“What we’re trying to do is to also get ourselves involved with customers, competitors (and) other companies to make Ottawa more attractive,” he says. “The more companies we can bring in to Ottawa, the more attractive Ottawa will be for high tech.”