I recently took part in a webinar hosted by EDC on How to Scale Your Technology Company and Go Global. You can view it on-demand to learn more about ICTC, as well as hear from the other panelists, which included:

The webinar provided some much-needed pragmatic advice for tech companies who are looking to export to international markets. If that’s where you’re headed, make this webinar a priority.

ICT by the numbers

Canada’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector is estimated to be made up of about 40,000 enterprises, and to be worth upwards of $72 billion annually. With numbers like that, it’s obvious that this sector is both critical to our economy and crucial to our future.

By the end of next year, the tech industry is expected to have created no less than 182,000 new jobs since 2014. Great news for Canada…now if only we had the necessary supply of talent to fill those positions.

Our research shows by 2021, there will be a demand for 216,000 digitally skilled jobs in Canada. While this figure is substantial, it’s not a challenge unique to us. In fact, the shortage of skilled ICT talent is a global phenomenon.        

According to its own estimates, the EU is set to see a shortfall of 800,000 ICT-skilled workers by 2020, and the U.S. Department of Labour estimates more than1 million computer specialist positions will be created during the same time period.

Talent challenges extend beyond just body counts. We’re also experiencing a skills gap, in part because rapid technology advances are making it difficult for programs to keep pace. This means workers need to continuously update their skills to meet industry needs.

As well, with less than one-quarter of post-secondary graduates participating in co-op programs, new grads sometimes fall short when it comes to relevant work experience and even basic communications skills. For tech companies who often require employees to tackle a variety of responsibilities and quickly respond to challenges, these are essential skills that new entrants need to hit the ground running.

Filling the talent gap

Part of ICTC’s research and policy mandate involves identifying which jobs are expected to be in demand, both currently and in the future, and which critical skills are needed for those jobs.

This type of profiling is important for job seekers, helping them shape pathways and gain skills relevant to the high-growth tech sector. From future students planning their study trajectory to meet career goals, to displaced workers looking for retraining direction, a sound understanding of current and future industry demand is key.

These findings play a significant role in helping to shape government policy on important topics like investment and trade, as well as our educational infrastructure and platforms. But as you can imagine, this part of the solution puzzle takes time.

What we can do right now

For one, we can help new grads beef up the work experience. WIL Digital is a national, work-integrated learning program that provides wage subsidies to Canadian tech employers that hire co-op students, interns and new graduates.

During 2017-18, ICTC worked with Canadian employers in fintech, advanced manufacturing, intelligent retail, cybersecurity and AI to offer nearly 200 quality work placements for interns and new grads across the country.

Another avenue is through initiatives like Go Talent, which connects internationally-educated IT professionals moving to Canada, with Canadian tech employers in need of skilled talent.

Building the skills of new grads and connecting employers with skilled workers is a start. Another crucial component is equipping local workers with the skills they need to transition into these jobs. Our research found that in British Columbia alone, nearly 30% of tech talent needs to come from provincial workers. This requires a concerted effort to integrate under-represented groups like women, Indigenous persons and people with disabilities into the tech workforce and helping workers to transition to this sector. 

Transitioning existing workers means we need to come up with a solution that focuses on integration, understanding challenges, and highlighting critical skills. We are doing research on these very topics.

With both reports set to be released in the fall of 2018, ICTC is working with March of Dimes Canada on a study identifying barriers that Ontario tech employers face when it comes to recruiting and retaining persons with disabilities into the workforce. We are also working with Calgary Economic Development on a study that identifies transition pathways for highly-skilled displaced workers. The results of both studies will help us develop relevant, timely and useful training programs and solutions.

Finding the right funding track

While the leading challenge to our ICT sector might be the talent gap, finding appropriate funding is not that far behind. As Stacey Wallin from BC Tech pointed out, the challenge is not expressly around  accessing capital, but at an even more basic level. It can oftentimes be about understanding what options are out there to begin with.

So, while most tech firms might be familiar with the angel and VC tracks, they often know little about non-dilutive funding, public markets, mergers and acquisitions, crowd funding or ICOs. It’s this lack of knowledge that Canadian companies often struggle with, which can derail a conversation with a sophisticated investor. To educate entrepreneurs about the various funding options, BC Tech has developed the Hyperscale Capital Program.                    

Similarly, StartUp Canada recognizes that weak financial literacy is one of the single biggest reasons why small businesses don’t succeed. They’ve developed programs and cross-sector initiatives that help entrepreneurs improve their financial literacy and acumen.

The inner workings of working capital

Working for a national organization like ours means I spend most of my time looking at the big picture. But nothing’s more rewarding or fascinating than listening to the stories of tech companies who are laying it all out there every day, and making it work.

Entrepreneurs like Michael Gilbert CEO of Semios Technologies. Semios is a green tech company that uses an IoT (Internet of Things) network to help their customers manage the unending risks of farming. During the webinar, Michael shared that managing working capital is one of the biggest challenges he’s faced as a growing company.

He cautioned that while most entrepreneurs typically think it’s all about the technology, what can kill a company fast is a cash-flow crunch. Ironically, it’s an everyday risk that’s often missed in the business plan. By working with his suppliers, banks and EDC, Michael has found a way to manage the cash-flow challenge, turned it into a win-win for his trusted suppliers.

A future filled with promise

I was asked during the webinar to share some of the future trends in ICT. While there’s no crystal ball to identify every component related to the boundless imagination and promise related to tech, our research has uncovered a group of what we call “transformative technologies” which we believe will lead the way in the future of technology.

We anticipate that the following technologies will dominate the innovation landscape in the coming years: 5G, artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, and 3D printing.  Not only do we believe these technologies will lead the way, but that their by-products involving development and scaling will trickle throughout the digital economy. This will spur countless other developments enabling the growth of many Canadian businesses going forward. ICTC will be completing studies on each of these five technologies over the next few years.

Acting as the foundational groundwork for future advancements ranging from autonomous vehicles to remote surgeries, we’ll be releasing our first study on 5G and its impacts on the Canadian economy and labour market later this fall. 

As these and other advancements march on, we’ll need to look at a holistic approach to meeting today’s ICT challenges so that Canada is well positioned to play a key role in future global technology paths.