Jobs in demand: There’s a growing need for tech workers in Canada

COVID-19 has put pressure on the tech sector, but many grads are lured by higher salaries south of the border

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      The technology industry has been growing quickly in Canada for years, and 2020 was no exception. 

      A 2019 report by CompTIA found that since 2011, net tech employment in Canada increased by an estimated 282,000 net new jobs. Net tech employment was also up 3.6 percent in 2019 over the previous year.

      When COVID-19 hit, while employment levels across the country decreased by 15 percent from February to April, they only decreased by 4.2 percent for tech workers. By May, employment levels were still down by 13.2 percent—except for the tech industry, which had already rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, according to Statistics Canada Labour Force Surveys. 

      Job trend analysts credit that rebound to continued demand as many companies spanning many fields quickly pivoted to working from home and online-focused business models.

      Travis O’Rourke, president of recruitment company Hays Canada, believes many of those shifts will be permanent. 

      “The pandemic has given a lot of organizations time to pause and reflect on how they build or rebuild their business. Automation of tasks and the utilization of artificial intelligence are on the top of every CEO’s list,” he says. “Of course, you need people to design, maintain and support them.”

      Why become a tech worker?

      As the tech industry grows, so does the career paths within it. Depending on the work you want to do, you could become a computer programmer, a software or web developer, a tech support representative, systems analyst, game developer, and more. A major perk of the industry is the room to move within it.

      Nancy Mbuku, an information technology support worker at Hobart Canada, originally spent a year as a junior programmer right out of her programming analyst program at George Brown College.

      “It really wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” she says. “In school, you create programs and you make websites, but in the real world, you’re basically just updating what’s already there.” 

      As one of two IT support workers at Hobart, a normal day involves a lot of troubleshooting password issues, computer set-up, server concerns, and more. 

      “I like it much better because you fix something, the client is happy, you’re happy and it’s done right there and then,” she says. 

      Compared with working as a programmer, Mbuku says there is a lot more demand for her skill set. 

      “I often got emails asking me if I’m looking for a job before, but now I get at least an email a day, if not two. Recruiters are really searching for people who can do support from home.”

      Versatility and mobility are becoming more important. 

      Meg Blair, head of HR for MindBeacon, a Canadian platform that connects mental health professionals with clients, is constantly recruiting web developers and software engineers at all levels of experience. The way the company attracts talent is by highlighting the opportunities for fluidity within roles. 

      “We are designing things that are new, we are not just perfecting one product, so people have the ability to move between teams,” she says. “If they have an interest in front end, and then back end, they can make those moves.”

      While some jobs allow for a steady nine-to-five slot, others are a better fit for younger or newer workers looking for more flexible schedules.

      What are the drawbacks?

      One challenge O’Rourke has seen for Canada at large is what he calls the “great Canadian brain drain”.

      “A high proportion of graduates, both international students and local students, relocate to the U.S.,” he says. “They do that because the pay is significantly greater in the U.S.”

      Prospective employees can pick from a wide selection of jobs at big international tech brands.

      “It’s a massive, massive skill gap in Canada,” he notes. 

      Mbuku also says the Canadian tech sector is lacking in diversity.

      “I realized working with programmers at my first job, it’s mostly men,” she says. 

      A 2019 study by the Brookfield Institute found men are four times more likely than women to work tech jobs. A pay gap persists in the industry, with women earning over $7,000 less on average than male counterparts. 

      The report also noted significant barriers to Black and Hispanic workers in particular, such as biases from teachers and mentors throughout education. Visible minorities also earn an overall average of $3,100 less than non-visible minority counterparts.