B.C. technology leaders are urging the provincial government to do more to foster the development of homegrown talent as the sector grapples with a labour shortage.
The CEOs, CFOs and owners of 18 B.C.-based high-tech companies, including Hootsuite, Electronic Arts and Vision Critical, published an open letter to Premier Christy Clark last week saying the only long-term solution to the industry's chronic labour shortage is to ensure colleges and universities are educating more prospective employees.
"This year alone, B.C.'s tech companies will be seeking thousands of new employees. New computer-science and technology graduates from B.C.'s postsecondary institutions simply cannot meet the demand for these well-paying positions," the letter said.
The leaders also outlined three recommendations on how to nurture the local technology talent pool: invest $100-million to expand technology-related programs at the college and university level; increase the number of co-op placements at postsecondary institutions and boost awareness about job opportunities in the tech sector.
Provincial Technology Minister Amrik Virk said in a written statement he agreed with the letter and that keeping talent in the province is "an immediate priority."
Mr. Virk said that since 2002, the government has increased the number of undergraduate engineering-related degrees by 71 per cent, and co-op placements have increased by more than 45 per cent over the past seven years.
In January, the Premier unveiled plans to introduce computer coding to its school curriculum. A month earlier, the government created a $100-million venture fund to finance tech startups.
However, Andrew Reid, the founder of Vision Critical, one of Canada's most successful emerging tech companies, said the government can still do more.
"Everyone recognizes the importance of postsecondary education, but we need to see more programs, more spots, more availability. You could double all these programs and you would still see 100-per-cent placements," said Mr. Reid. "I commend the Premier for what she's done with her tech initiative, but I think we have to do more."
With a limited number of technology-related programs in the province, plus the lure of Silicon Valley, Mr. Reid says it can be difficult to recruit top talent in B.C.
Igor Faletski, the chief executive officer at Mobify, says he has seen high-paying job postings go unfilled for months because talent in the area is scarce.
"Technology is going to continue to be more and more important and represent a larger portion of our economy," Mr. Faletski said. "We want to raise awareness about this issue,"
Although Mr. Reid would like the province to double the number of co-op opportunities, he says he'll be happy to see the issue of talent retention move up on the government's list of priorities.
"People talk about us being the Silicon Valley of the north," Mr. Reid said. "To really own that, we need to focus on more support, and a lot of that can be done at the postsecondary education level."