Galvanize, the recent rebrand of Vancouver stalwart ACL Services, has been a mainstay of the local tech industry for more than 30 years. The company, which started out by creating audit software, has since expanded to building security, risk management, and compliance solutions—a meaty field for developers to sink their teeth into. But despite its stellar local reputation and nationally recognized culture—it has earned top marks in the coveted Canada’s Top 100 Employers and Canada’s Best Managed Companies lists—the business is still plagued by the biggest problem in B.C. tech: it just can’t find enough qualified professionals.
Kathy Enros, the vice president of talent at Galvanize, has a greater understanding of the industry’s staffing challenges than most. While amassing more than 20 years’ experience in human resources, and with 13 in Vancouver’s tech sector, Enros has kept a close eye on the hiring trends as the local ecosystem has expanded. In her view, the crux of the issue is that the sector is growing faster than schools can graduate students.
“When you look at certain roles within tech—I’ll call out software developers and salespeople with that tech background in particular—there’s a limited pool of people here in Vancouver, and it’s also very competitive at the same time,” Enros tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “We’re fighting to find talent to deal with the growth, but to be honest, too, I’m also focusing on retention, because once you find that great talent you don’t want to lose them anywhere else.
“I think, historically, software development isn’t something that was really taught in schools,” she continues. “Of late, the curriculums are changing, but it hasn’t caught up to where we’re at and meeting people today. I think we are dealing with a bit of that gap. The people coming out of those schools doesn’t quite deal with the volume that all of the software companies really need, especially in Vancouver.”
One reason that local tech companies are missing out on new grads is the lure of the States. Although B.C. loses fewer newly qualified individuals to America than some schools in Ontario, some talented workers are inspired to head south to pursue the prestige and paycheques that come with jobs in hubs like Seattle or Silicon Valley.
In an attempt to show local grads the benefits of staying in town, Galvanize will collaborate on a new UBC initiative. Named the Industry Partnership Program, the enterprise will allow the university’s students to gain experience working for the company and show them what it’s like to be a part of a fast-moving tech organization. That initiative builds on an existing relationship with UBC, which saw the company give tours and educate students about careers in tech and help to advise the university on its curriculum to make sure it is teaching the right skills.
“Partnering with UBC…was almost an automatic for me,” Enros says. “UBC has a fantastic comp. sci. program and we have been hiring co-op students from there. That, for us, has been fantastic because it gives us the chance to try out their students, and vice versa. And because they’ve been so great, we have been hiring a lot of them back—so once they graduate, they come back to work for us. So for us, it’s sheer gold to be able to have someone come back that’s already somewhat experienced; they know us well and they know they love us. Having that has been so great.”
Enros believes that there are a number of benefits for new grads who choose to enter the local industry. Packed with startups and smaller companies, the Vancouver ecosystem offers employees a much greater role to play and the opportunity to learn new skills quickly. As a result, an individual can rise up the ladder much faster in those organizations. She believes that the impact on the ecosystem will be overwhelmingly positive if Vancouver is able to retain its talent.
“If more people stay and the pool is bigger, I think you’ll just see more companies starting to set up shop here,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a win-win for the economy and the more companies wanting to stay. And that’s only going to be better for the whole tech community and make us way more competitive on a global scale.”
Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSaysMore