Amazon announced earlier this month it has shut down its New York City headquarters plan after heavy local opposition, creating a frenzy of post-mortems in the business and news media. The project, known as HQ2, was at one point slated for Canada, before Toronto lost the bid in December. Pundits had boasted that landing one of Amazon’s new headquarters would put the city and Canada on the map as a North American tech hub. This is forgetting one thing — it already is.
Toronto is among the best locations for tech firms to settle because of the talent, according to CBRE’s annual Scoring Tech Talent Report. The city’s lively ecosystem has created more technology jobs than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. combined in the last year.
And the Ontario capital is not the only Canadian city that has reached that level of esteem; overall, out of 50 cities, four Canadian locations were included in the report: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. The ranking was based on job growth, education, office rents, population trends and housing costs.
The conditions that supported this country’s tech growth have significant implications for the future of Canada’s workforce. Several factors are shaping technology jobs and the workforce in general.
First, Canada is more attractive to global talent. The country is welcoming an influx of skilled international workers to fill technology jobs, thanks to our merit-based immigration system and targeted government initiatives. The country has historically been conducive to recruiting international talent. This is an extra boon for the tech world, which compared to other industries, is more merit-based. Technology companies typically reward and advance individuals with talent and ideas to contribute.
Paradoxically, at the same time, Canada is losing talent to Silicon Valley, which is home to many top tech companies, venture capital funding and higher salaries. These two opposing forces will ensure the future of Canada’s tech workforce will be more diverse than ever before.
The second factor is somewhat of an AI story in reverse. All the common narratives suggest AI represents a curse for job hunters. But as AI transforms jobs, it also brings new opportunities. Canada has an abundance of companies that are quietly transforming business through AI. This list includes everything from entrepreneurial startups, to brick and mortar retail companies, to massive industries that are beginning to harness analytics and use technology and data to drive strategy. In fact, industries that historically caused Canada to be perceived as a laggard such as mining, agriculture and energy, are now benefiting from and having a renaissance because of AI.
But AI is just at its beginning stages when it comes to technology jobs — foretelling a broader shift in what the future workforce will look like. For example, the auto industry is evolving toward smart, autonomous and more energy efficient vehicles — all of which require AI talent. But for every job that requires machine learning or data science, there is a need for 10-or-more data engineers to understand and transform the data. This is a window into what types of jobs will be in demand as more sectors undergo digital transformation.
Third, Canada’s ecosystem for startups is strong, ranking third in the world by Swiss-based StartupBlink (as part of its map of the global startup ecosystem). This is in part thanks to the support systems offered through resources such as MaRS Discovery District, Ryerson Digital Media Zone and Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab, as well as a multitude of other accelerators and incubators across the country. Canada’s startups are plucking tech talent and offering engineers an opportunity to join firms from the ground up, make an impact and bring technologies to market quickly.
Canada’s strong university research community needs to continue to develop leading data scientists and engineers like it has been doing. The more that talent is nurtured and developed at universities and colleges, the more jobs are created. Ultimately, talent reinforces growth and vice versa as a greater talent pool ensures greater company investment.
Canada’s economy is undergoing a digital transformation that will continue to alter what the future of jobs and everyday work will look like. For tech, this shift foretells solid job prospects and growth.
Darren Edery is CEO of Adastra Corporation, a GTA-based Big Data and Analytics consultancy.