Opinion: Record immigration to Canada presents a win-win opportunity for talent-seeking tech companies
By Sahar Kanani, senior director of program management, MacroHealth
When I moved from war-torn Iran to blissfully peaceful Vancouver in 1998, I was one of around 174,000 immigrants to Canada that year. I arrived with an undergraduate degree in software engineering, five years of work experience in the field, and a mission to make a difference in my new homeland.
Twenty-four years later, annual immigration to Canada has more than doubled, and I’m pursuing my mission by managing and mentoring several of these newcomers. MacroHealth’s diverse team of software engineers reminds me of myself when I first arrived in this country, and therein lies a win-win opportunity for talented newcomers and eager employers in B.C.’s tech sector.
Today’s thriving tech ecosystem bears little resemblance to the one I joined at the tail end of the 20th century. In 1998, just one Vancouver-based tech company—Ballard Power Systems—was valued at $1-billion or more. In 2021 alone, a record-setting 14 B.C. tech firms achieved this “unicorn” status via IPOs, financing and acquisitions. The team at MacroHealth, for its part, raised $54 million in a Series A funding round in late 2020, and is working to fill 30-plus technical positions to help optimize the national network strategy for customers including the health plan at the third-largest non-profit health system in the United States. It’s a big job, to put it mildly.
No wonder the biggest difference between then and now is today’s fierce competition for top talent. The good news on that front is that the calibre of Vancouver’s tech talent is among the best in North America, with a recent report from CBRE ranking it 11th. The not-so-good news: There are far more job openings than this talent can fill, especially with the pandemic accelerating so many companies’ digital strategies. Indeed, KPMG's 2021 Business Outlook Poll recently revealed that nearly 80 percent of the 500-plus Canadian businesses surveyed said they need more workers with digital skills, with more than two-thirds having trouble finding and hiring talent. What’s more, this inability to find or retain talent was identified as the top threat to their growth prospects.
New arrivals to Canada, it turns out, are playing increasingly vital roles in combating this threat. According to Statistics Canada, the share of “very recent immigrants” who were employed rose by 7.8 percentage points to 78.7 percent over the course of 2020 and 2021. Where were these employment gains the largest? You guessed it: In the tech sector, where they jumped 31.3 percent.
Having been a new arrival myself and working closely with scores of other new Canadians over the years, I know the opportunity to make a difference remains one of the most powerful incentives for this demographic. The key for prospective tech employers, then, is to highlight and embrace that opportunity.
This starts with company leadership. Once I got to know the founders of MacroHealth, I realized that their vision is fundamentally based on helping people by increasing access to quality healthcare. The fact that their hearts and minds have been in the right place from the very beginning is one of the main reasons I chose to work at MacroHealth.
Next comes cultivating a culture of trust and respect. I love to travel and spend time with family, so when I asked for extra vacation days my new manager’s response came as a pleasant surprise: “You deliver results, and I won’t keep track of your time off.” This was a great way to come on board because it showed so much trust in me. Combine this flexible time-off policy with other benefits such as parental leave, and it’s easy to see why the sense of ownership and engagement among our team members is so high.
Last but not least, we also set the bar high when it comes to team member success. Our culture of collaboration means that when one individual needs help, other team members step up. If a software engineer needs to learn about new technology, for instance, we work to provide them with the time and the resources to do so in a way that works for them.
I wish so many supports were in place for new hires, both from inside and outside Canada, when I arrived here. But as much as times and tech workplaces have changed, my advice to new arrivals remains the same: Don't let any of your doubts or fears stop you. Don't give up. Once you find the right fit for your skills, values and ambitions, you’ll feel right at home more quickly than you ever expected.
As the late great author Henning Mankell put it, “You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.”