Meta’s announcement in late March that it was putting down roots in Toronto with plans to hire 2,500 new workers in the city and across Canada was met with widespread fanfare from politicians.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who himself announced the jobs at a press conference, touted the move as a boon to Canadian tech talent.
“Our tech talent no longer has to look elsewhere to pursue their careers,” he said when Meta announced.
Ford Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said in a statement that the move will “strengthen the province’s innovation sector.”
But for Canadian business leaders watching the news of another US tech giant putting more “good-paying” jobs in the pipeline, dreams of building their own businesses have grown all the dimmer.
Canada’s tight tech talent pool
Hiring and retaining talent in Canada’s highly competitive market is a regular task for Erin Bury, CEO of Willful, a 15-person startup founded in Toronto that makes software to streamline inheritance law.
Although Willful has made progress with early venture capital funding and a deal on CBC The dragon’s lairBury tells Global News that she has already been poached by tech giants looking for Canadian talent.
“I know that my team is approached every day by recruiters who represent these big companies or directly by these companies,” she told Global News.
Meta, which already has a modest boutique in Toronto, Montreal and a few other markets in Canada, is just the latest major company to keep tabs on the Canadian talent pool in recent years.
Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix have all announced some level of hiring plans in Canada, primarily for engineering roles, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toronto has become a hotbed of engineering talent following a head-turning New York Times article that positioned the city as one of the top three tech hubs in North America, behind only Miami and Austin, TX. That story cited a 2021 report from commercial real estate firm CBRE, which tracks top tech talent.
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These companies are adding pressure to a historically tight national labor market – Statistics Canada said the country’s unemployment rate fell to 5.3% in March, the lowest level on record.
Job growth in the technology sector has not been deterred during the pandemic.
There were 855,000 people employed in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector last month, according to data provided to Global News by StatCan. This represents an increase from 780,000 jobs in the industry a year earlier and 743,000 workers in March 2020.
During the same period, hourly wages in ICT rose to $40.98 from $38.23 at the start of the pandemic.
“It’s gotten very competitive, and we’ve already seen Willful team members move on to bigger American companies. We just can’t compete on base salaries,” Bury says.
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Although Willful still has a small office in Toronto, the company has taken advantage of the pandemic to move away almost completely and expand its hiring pool outside of Ontario to add employees everywhere from Vancouver to Halifax. .
On the face of it, the move gave Bury access to a wider hiring pool. But on a relative basis, looking outside of Toronto hasn’t materially changed the talent shortage.
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“While we’ve expanded our talent pool, so has everyone else. And you’ve seen a lot of companies that were maybe more office-focused in, say, San Francisco, opening up their recruiting to people in Canada, everywhere.
“We’re not just competing with other startups anymore, we’re competing with the big companies that we used to be, like Shopify, and now we’re going to be competing with some of the new entrants, like Netflix and Pinterest and Meta. ”
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Ben Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said that while Toronto and other Canadian markets had strong tech talent, there was already a national labor shortage in the industry before Meta took over. announces its hiring plans.
CCI estimates put the current number of Canadian tech vacancies at 200,000.
“When a company like Meta or other companies come to Ontario and say they’re going to create jobs, they’re actually not. It will actually be a reshuffle or reshuffle of jobs,” Bergen told Global News.
“All of this just puts additional pressure on the labor market, which is already extremely tight.”
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Where competition was previously tightest in Toronto and Vancouver, Bergen says companies in smaller markets such as Winnipeg and Saskatoon are now facing a talent shortage in the age of distance.
Meta, however, doesn’t see its presence as a drag on Canada’s talent pool – the tech giant believes its presence will bolster Canadian talent.
Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta in Canada, told Global News in an interview that the company’s hiring ambitions could put “short-term pressure” on the job market, but disputed the idea that it would eventually become a siphon of talent.
“I think that’s a pretty short-term, zero-sum view of things. We see this investment as a contribution to building the ecosystem as a whole, we are increasing the total size of the sector,” she said.
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Healthy tech sectors include companies of all sizes, Curran said, where today’s engineers can learn to be the founders of tomorrow’s startups.
She also singles Meta out specifically from other tech giants that have announced hiring plans in Canada, saying the company’s big ambitions for the Metaverse will create new economic opportunities for global tech companies.
“We have a long-term vision for this sector, which will really expand the size of it,” she said.
“Objective” as a hiring argument
Whether Canada’s overall tech talent pool grows or shrinks as a result of Meta’s expansion, startups are already waking up to the need to reinvent their hiring and retention strategies.
Shawn Hewat is the CEO of Vancouver-based Wavy, a 20-person startup that helps other companies follow their corporate culture. Hewat says Wavy has tripled its workforce over the past year by changing its approach to hiring in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and talent shortages.
First, the company immediately moved away when the pandemic began, turning to the UK and India to fill positions.
Although Wavy has grown rapidly, Hewat says he has also scaled back his hiring plans to stretch the company’s payroll as far as possible.
Companies often have to “do more with less,” Hewat says, paying more for a core team of workers to meet rising market rates for talent.
But the biggest recruiting tool Wavy has is its own specialty: workplace culture.
Ensuring that employees feel valued and excited to come to work requires careful attention from managers from the start, both to attract and retain talent.
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Hewat says she received messages from new hires that Wavy gave “the warmest welcome” any of her employees have received at a remote company.
“You can’t compete in compensation and benefits the way you can with a Netflix or Meta or Shopify, even,” she says. “It’s really about finding people who have aligned vision and values, who want to step in at an early stage and have a big impact.”
Meta, too, makes the case for value in its recruiting pitch, calling on potential employees to help them “build the metaverse.” Curran says the company’s virtual domain ambitions could see new hires play a role in creating a “whole new economy for internet creators.”
But Bury says startups can market themselves as the anti-Big Tech to stand out from the crowd. Employees who care about “more than the number on the paycheck” may be enticed to join start-ups if they’re looking to get hands-on in something they believe in, she says.
“They don’t necessarily want to go and work at Fortune 500 brands because they feel like they can make more of a difference (in a startup),” Bury says.
“There is more purpose.”
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