Sean Hinton Headshot
Sean Hinton
CEO and Founder - SkyHive Technologies

How Canada Can Win the War for Tech Talent

Published on

Listen to the Podcast:

Takeaways

  1. The labour economy is made up of highly interdependent elements: employers, the government, community organizations and workers.
  2. Understanding the connections between these elements is fundamental to discovering and fixing the inefficiencies that exist in this system.
  3. Employers have to work harder at offering additional incentives in order to acquire and retain the talent they need.

Action

Community organizations like TECHNATION act as a middleman between all the elements of the labour economy, and must foster efficient and effective lines of communication between these elements in order to help them work out the nicks of the system and catch up to labour market trends.


What should Canadian companies do to ensure they can recruit the best talent?

This is a big question that we could dedicate an entire podcast to. Employers do not recognize how interdependent the elements of the labour economy are in terms of fulfilling workforce growth requirements. We should visualize a labour economy in terms of a four-sided chart. On one end we have the companies that generate demand for increased skills in different segments of their workforce through productivity growth. That demand then flows to governments, who are able to see the demand for talent reflected through job data, though this means they are typically playing catch up to the trends. From there, the government implements policies and economic development incentives to flow into communities where organizations like training and vocational institutions, academia and community organizations build out curricula to train learners and workers with the new skills they need to feed that original demand from the employer. This four-sided market can be condensed as employer, government, training and community organizations and workers and learners.

“Canada tends to lag at responding to talent shortages that we have identified.”

Despite great efforts to ensure this interdependency is as efficient as possible, we still have a long way to go. I challenge watchers and listeners to think about the last time we saw an economic report on labour shortages in the field of cybersecurity and to think about the interconnectedness of that issue through the four sides of the labour economy. Think about how much time it is taking to respond to that issue. Canada tends to lag at responding to talent shortages that we have identified. It probably takes, at minimum, 18 months to implement some form of training that gets workers and learners going. 

We can see another issue with the field of data science in Canada. There is a burgeoning generation of new machine learning engineers and data scientists that are exiting university, but the issue is that the actual commercialization of machine learning is not something that is easily learned in university. At university, students deal with structured data sets in a closed test environment. However, when you get to the commercialization of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it becomes a completely different phenomenon. It takes a lot of experiential learning to get people upskilled to the point where they can be functioning within those roles. 

The process to solve these gaps and challenges is a long one. Examining the interdependencies of the issues and finding these efficiencies will better help us prepare for the future.


What are your biggest concerns for Canada’s competitiveness in the war for talent? 

Interestingly, the number of unicorns across Canada over the last 12 to 24 months suggests that we are in a bit of a paradox. If you innovate a great idea and there is a strong product-market fit, at some point early in your growth stage, you will need to think about execution risks. The number one risk to an organization will be execution risk, and execution risks are largely solved by the hiring of people. The paradox is that the more successful the Canadian tech industry is, the greater the need for extremely skilled and capable talent to ensure that execution risk is minimized and that technology startup growth can continue.

“Colleges and universities funded by the government are not always responsive enough to community needs, so private institutions have stepped in to fill that gap,”

Going back to that four-sided system, typically what tends to happen is if there is not an oversupply of talent, each of those areas will begin to carve off its own training and try to fulfill its own workforce needs. For example, we can see this with the advent and development of private training programs. Colleges and universities funded by the government are not always responsive enough to community needs, so private institutions have stepped in to fill that gap and offer training that is more relevant to the detailed demands of those communities.

We see this more within corporations where instead of relying on local institutions to provide the skills necessary for their workforce, they build their own academies within the organization. Many Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations are doing this. However, there are questions about the quality and efficacy of the actual skills that are being acquired. 

Canada is at a little bit of a disadvantage because the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the workforce and made it global as well as remote. As a result of that, we are seeing Silicon Valley-type talent dispersing itself all over the world. We have heard a lot about Silicon Valley talent moving to Austin; we have heard about New York talent moving to Florida. We are seeing the same type of geographic segmentation happening within Canada.

“There is a lot of migration to the US from the Canadian tech sector.”

From our own data, we can also see that there is a lot of migration to the US from the Canadian tech sector. Many candidates and employees are now taking roles in the United States because they can now perform those roles in less expensive communities than say, Palo Alto or in Manhattan while also making a higher salary. That is one element of the remote workforce phenomenon, which extends globally.

One thing I did not touch on yet is how we can recruit talent at home within our own communities. There is a big misconception now that salary increases can save the day, and so we are seeing salaries explode across technology jobs. However, for people who can get a healthy salary no matter where they are, employers will have to bring more to the table in order to hire and retain them. There is a lot of focus now on residual and outside benefits beyond just compensation and so employers need to look at different competitive options to be issued to employees and different types of benefits in terms of health and wellness. These elements were probably not considered a couple of years ago but are now becoming the norm in terms of standard offerings.

One last point is that people want to join organizations that are doing good for the world. For example, SkyHive is a B corporation, which means we are a for-profit and social impact organization. Everything about what we do is mission-driven and that is our number one recruitment tool. People want to work for companies that are doing good in the world. I would highly encourage companies that are struggling to find talent to figure out not only the outside health and wellness benefits, but companies should consider implementing different community initiatives as a recruitment tool for prospective talent.

Another issue is a global one. Pockets of expertise will form around the world. Europe and North America have a lot of strength in innovation, design, creativity and leading-edge technology development. On the other hand, pockets within India, the Middle East and other parts of Asia-Pacific (APAC) showcase more capabilities in coding and data science skills.

As companies broaden globally, the pattern that seems to be forming is that Canadian companies should reach out to talent globally, engage them in their local markets and then look at bringing them to Canada. The focus on immigration and on governments supporting immigration has never been higher, especially in regards to technology jobs in Canada.


What can organizations like TECHNATION do to help Canada win the war for talent?

Let us go back to my initial point on the four sides of the labour market. Now, let us assume that they are four pizzas slices and there is a middle to that circle. That circle is where TECHNATION goes. TECHNATION and other similar associations around Canada represent a central interdependency. TECHNATION is the glue that binds the interconnected parts of the labour economy together. Understanding the important role that TECHNATION plays, how each side feeds off the other and which efficiencies are inherent or not inherent in that model will really make or break the success of the entire circle. Helping educate all sides of that circle on the interconnectedness between everything will go a long way to supporting the effort in finding efficiencies. 

“Community organizations need to be responsive to the needs of the people within the labour economy and ensure a system is in place to facilitate communication.”

If we go back to the definition of agile and look at other words like scrum master, people tend to see these as new technological terms. The truth is these terms are all founded on the principles of Kaizen and lean thinking, which was invented on the factory floors of Toyota in the manufacturing sector in the 1970s. These new terms are simply an evolution of that. We need to understand what the roots of success in Kaizen are. What made it such an incredible model was that it operated from the bottom up. Community organizations need to be responsive to the needs of the people within the labour economy and ensure a system is in place to facilitate communication amongst each other with respect to continuous improvement. That is what I would suggest as a call to action to TECHNATION.

TECHNATION is doing a fantastic job. I see that on the world stage as well. There is not a lot of organizations out there like TECHNATION supporting the burgeoning technology industries in the world’s communities.

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Sean Hinton Headshot
Sean Hinton
CEO and Founder - SkyHive Technologies

Bio: Sean Hinton is the CEO and Founder of SkyHive Technologies. He is the inventor of Quantum Labour Analysis, which marries economic theory with artificial intelligence to produce advanced real-time knowledge graphs of jobs, skills, training and labour market intelligence. He is also the Co-Chair of the Entrepreneurs Circle of the Canadian American Business Council and a member of OECD’s Future of Work Forum Engagement Group. 

Organization Profile: SkyHive Technologies is a cloud-based workforce management and reskilling software provider. Their Quantum Labor Analysis platform aims to optimize human economies in real-time for companies, communities and countries. The platform works by extracting employee skills and matching skill gaps against future job requirements, identifying optimized career pathways and recommending training