Jul 21, 2021
Better pay and 'micro offices': Pandemic shakes up Canada's tech industry
Bay St. is looking to adopt a hybrid work approach for employees: Toronto Finance International CEO
The global pandemic is shaking up Canada’s flourishing tech industry, pushing employers to embrace new work arrangements and offer competitive wages, says one of the country’s venture industry veterans.
Work habits that took hold during the crisis have created an “open market” where everyone can hire anyone, anywhere, Chris Arsenault, a founding partner at Montreal-based Inovia Capital, said in an interview. The firm anticipates increased competition for talent, with firms operating “micro offices” all over the world.
Inovia, which counts Twitter Inc. Chairman Patrick Pichette among its partners, manages about US$1.5 billion and invests in early and growth-stage startups.
A shift to “distributed offices and talent is part of the future,” Arsenault said. “COVID accelerated all of this and we think that this is going be a key challenge for companies.” The Montreal-based company recently added two partners with tech and human-resources expertise to help firms in its portfolio expand in this changed environment.
Long a believer in building a domestic tech scene, Arsenault watched Canadian startups multiply in recent years, and local champions like Shopify Inc. and Lightspeed POS Inc. emerge. Helped by open immigration policies, that growing ecosystem allowed young companies to attract workers, stemming years of brain drain.
Canadian cities, which had previously lost throngs of graduates to the Silicon Valley, became a magnet for foreign students and workers, helped in part by more restrictive U.S. visa policies under former U.S. President Donald Trump. Between 2016 and 2020, Toronto added almost 55,000 more tech jobs than it produced tech graduates, the greatest deficit in 50 North American markets ranked by CBRE Group Inc. Montreal and Vancouver came in third and fourth.
While global competition for talent was already fierce, the COVID-19 crisis added a new layer of complexity for employers as people got used to working from home. Prospective employees now inquire about flexible work and benefit policies, and pay closer attention to companies’ values and behavior, said Krista Skalde, Inovia’s new chief talent officer and partner, who joined Inovia from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.
“All of the sudden it’s shifting to, ‘yes, compensation, but what else?’” she said in an interview.
Melanie McClure, chief human resources officer at Montreal-based FX Innovation, is at the forefront of the global rush for tech skills. The company, a consultancy in cloud computing with about 650 employees, is using all avenues to attract and retain workers at home and overseas, including offering full flexibility on where they choose to work. Competition for Canadian workers is fierce, especially from local outposts of U.S. companies, she said.
“It’s our pride to recruit in Quebec, in Canada, but in a full employment market, it’s very, very difficult,” she said. In some cases employers are offering US$50,000 extra, on top of an already lofty salary, to win top talen. “It is crazy.”
In this environment, Arsenault says Inovia wants to make sure the startups it invests in are committed to offering highly competitive wages, have diversity at heart, and can handle a geographically distributed workforce.
“If you’re in the tech space, with a tech expertise of any sort, I can honestly say the first reason you’re going to join is because you believe in the purpose of the company,” he said. “You take for granted they will pay you equally with whatever you could get somewhere else.”