B.C. Tech Sector Struggles After Rules for Foreign Workers Toughened

Content provided by The Vancouver Sun

Changes to Canada’s temporary foreign workers rules are worsening the shortage of technology talent in B.C., delegates to a conference in Vancouver heard Thursday.

“We have a bit of a crisis here. We need more talent to be moving to Vancouver to soak up those jobs that are available,” Brian Buggey, director of strategic initiatives and sector development at the Vancouver Economic Commission, told a session at the conference organized by HR Tech Group, an organization representing more than 90 mid-sized and large companies in all areas of technology.

Camila Louzada, a manager at the B.C. Technology Industries Association, said a survey by her association and the HR Tech Group found the federal foreign-worker rules are making it more difficult for companies to fill jobs.

“It takes longer now, it’s more expensive and there is a lot more administrative work involved,” she said. “With the technology industry they always need to hire for yesterday. They don’t have the time and effort to wait months and months for a work visa to be processed. … A lot of tech companies in Vancouver are giving up on getting foreign workers.”

Louzada said as a result of the talent squeeze, some companies are having to curtail their growth.

“We have many companies that are moving elsewhere or they are losing revenue because they don’t have enough capacity to built at the speed they need to.”

A conference session on immigration recruiting issues heard that the province is trying to bring together employers and industry organizations to help identify needs and strategies for long-term workforce development. One group will focus on the apparel sector, with such companies as Lululemon, Arc’teryx and Mountain Equipment Co-op, while a second group will focus on technology, including clean tech, animation, life sciences and other sectors.

Ryan St. Germaine, founder and CEO of BCTechJobs.ca, said it is particularly difficult for small- and mid-sized companies to recruit software developers.

“The problem is there aren’t enough people,” he said. “Immigration needs to change. There are shortages in key roles in software and it’s creating a barrier to growth.”

St. Germaine said these companies don’t have the time and resources to train the talent they need.

“At that point, it’s even more critical to have quality people because you can’t afford to train people,” he said. “You have to get someone who is ready to hit the ground running, otherwise you’re done.”

Conference goers also heard that as companies vie to attract talent, money and compensation — in the form of stock options and other bonuses — are only part of the draw for employees.

Jim Leininger, principal consultant at Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm, said to start on a level playing field, companies have to be competitive in compensation.

“One common theme I see in all of these organizations when they come to see us, they ask the question ‘besides pay what can we do?’” he said.

Jeff Ryan, a vice-president at GoPro, told the conference all new employees at his company are given GoPro cameras and taught how to use them. Every Thursday afternoon, employees go out and use the cameras at whatever activity they choose.

“Every week for two hours, between one and three, you can go play with your daughter, run in the park, play basketball, go surfing … you can do whatever you want to pursue your own passion,” said Ryan.

He said every company needs to differentiate itself to attract and keep employees.

“What is it about you that’s going to make you special?” he said. “At GoPro, we’ve tried to make that around our product — we absolutely want to be the company where you can live a big life.”

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