Rich Emrich is CEO of Altus Assessments, which has an online tool to help higher education academic programs assess applicants for people skills.
While a scaling tech company needs a great product and money to grow, it won’t get far without access to great talent. In particular, Canadian tech companies are struggling to find senior talent in almost every role. People who have experience in starting and scaling companies. People who have the scars of mistakes and found a way to success.
This is partly a good news story: While we have world-class senior talent here, technology entrepreneurialism has flourished over the past 10 years, and we now have far more good companies than the domestic labour market can handle. The fact is that 10 years is too short to generate a deep well of talent to draw from. We can see it when we are looking for hires because our recruiters primarily “source” talent gainfully employed at other companies. Our top talent is faced with the same pressure from recruiters for other firms.
Dialogue around talent seems to mostly centre around who we train at our colleges and universities and, while this is absolutely important, it’s not going to help companies that are struggling with finding senior help right now. We can’t wait.
If you are struggling to find top talent domestically, what would you do? Look internationally, of course. This is what we did at Altus Assessments back in 2016 after spending an enormous amount of time trying to fill a senior software developer position domestically. We found a talented person, but they lived in the Ukraine. Ten months and $10,000 later, we had successfully brought them to Toronto. It was painful, but necessary.
Something momentous occurred in mid-2017. It was a quiet change to government policy, but has caused quite a surprising difference for companies such as ours. The federal Liberal government launched a fast-track immigration program for jobs constraining Canadian industry, including highly skilled software developers and senior managers. The program was called the “Global Talent Stream.”
The change has been astounding. More than 20,000 highly skilled, highly educated workers have had their work permits fast-tracked since June, 2017, under this program. In our case, we were able to hire three senior software developers over the course of six weeks, bringing them here from Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines. In one case, we went from interview to having another new relocated team member in six weeks: about the same time it would have taken someone in the local job market to join us. These are people who will be instrumental to our growth and success.
The change was made even more pronounced by companies such as Vanhack that have amplified the effectiveness of the policy. Vanhack recruits top-quality talent internationally at meet-ups they run all over the world. In the past few week, they’ve held these events in Nigeria, Brazil and India. After screening talent, they arrange for top talent to interview with top companies in the Canadian city to which the potential recruit is interested in relocating. When a match is made, they facilitate the immigration paperwork. Innovative companies such as this have put the Global Talent Stream program on steroids.
While this is good for us, it also strengthens the talent base of our tech community, bringing in needed skills and experience. Toronto, Waterloo, Ont., Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver are increasingly being recognized for their tech excellence through the almost weekly announcements of another tech juggernaut opening an office here. While this is flattering, these large companies also soak up a lot of talent. This ends up being short-term employment gain for long-term enrichment of a foreign company paying foreign taxes and accruing intellectual property (IP) to the benefit of a foreign headquarters. If we are to support our home-grown companies – and make no mistake – scaling tech companies generate more than their fair share of growth in high-paying jobs, we need programs like this that resupply our talent pool.
While the Liberals created this program, and made it permanent in 2017, I’ve been struck by the lack of a detailed innovation policy in any party platform. Aside from vague platitudes, there is little concrete policy. Will the Conservatives keep this program intact? Beyond talent, do any of them have a strategy to encourage domestic companies to develop an effective data and IP strategy? What will they do to modify funding programs such as the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) initiative so they are easier to use for smaller high-potential home-grown technology companies versus massive foreign branch plants?
While I’m excited by the existence of this Global Talent Stream program for our company, I’m more excited as a Canadian for the future of our tech ecosystem and Canada as a whole. Let’s hope the next federal government sees it the same way.
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