B.C. tech sector tops in Canada – By Amrik Virk

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Amrik Virk Minister of Technology, Innovation and  Citizens’ Services
Amrik Virk
Minister of Technology, Innovation and
Citizens’ Services

It is an exciting time for B.C. as the province leads in economic growth, job creation and unemployment. It’s an even more exciting time for B.C.’s technology sector and for British Columbians who want to pursue careers in tech. Vancouver has been named the top business ecosystem in Canada for tech start-ups – the number of tech jobs in B.C. are at an all-time high – and graduate seats and job training programs are expanding to ensure that aspiring professionals can fill these jobs.

There are approximately 106,000 direct tech jobs today, and projections suggest at least 16,000 more will be created over the next four years – at salaries 75% higher than the provincial average. That said, companies, educators, industry associations and all levels of government need to work together to develop and expand B.C.’s talent pool to meet current and future demand.

Talent development starts here at home. Together, the B.C. government and our Crown agency, the BC Innovation Council, recently hosted the second #BCTECH Summit. The event involved more than 5,000 entrepreneurs, companies, academics and students – and helped facilitate networking, business to government meetings and a job fair for future tech leaders.

The opportunities that exist in our tech space right now are vast and tech companies are hungry for bright minds to fill them. To help deepen our talent pool, government announced three key initiatives as part of our #BCTECH Strategy. We are increasing the number of technology graduates by 1,000 per year in rural and urban areas so that aspiring students have the opportunity to pursue in-demand tech jobs. The tech grad spaces will be a mix of certificates, diplomas and degrees benefitting all areas of the province, with 40% of the new projected graduates from programming located outside of the Lower Mainland. We are doubling post-secondary tech co-op placements to over 1,400 students annually so students get invaluable on the job training and apply their classroom studies in the work environment. We are also expanding the Mitacs student research program by two-thirds to over 800 internships annually, and connecting students with industry and business.

We hope to see tech companies take advantage of co-op opportunities so that our students get hands on experience and are job ready – while also providing a talent pipeline for employers.

A recent Labour Market Priorities study found that that co-op placements were the most effective method by which their graduates secure full-time employment and it provides a smoother transition from the classroom to the office. However, according to the study, while nearly 70% of B.C. tech companies hire co-ops, only 42% hire on a regular basis.

For British Columbians who want to transition into tech careers from another field or speciality, tech-training programs will be made available for them to do just that. We know that tech talent development can’t happen overnight, so we also need to look to the talent that exists outside of our borders so that businesses can immediately attract the best and the brightest. To that end, we will continue to work with the federal government to reduce the time and costs of immigration processes, while increasing B.C.’s share of immigrants with technology skills.

The vast majority of B.C.’s tech companies are small businesses that need access to new markets to allow them to grow and create new family-sustaining jobs. Whether customers are across our province or around the globe, government is also supporting the development of new products by being part of the growth chain. We are creating a Procurement Concierge Service to help connect buyers with vendors. An Innovative Ideas Fund will support tech products submitted by B.C. vendors that are innovative, not already purchased by government and tech-related. Our Startup in Residence program will embed entrepreneurs with government to solve actual public sector problems.

For the fifth consecutive year, growth in the number of jobs, wages, and in the number of technology companies is a clear indication that we are collectively building an environment that supports continued growth. However, if we are to meet current and future workforce supply and demand, we must seize the moment.

Together with companies, educators, industry associations and all levels of government, we can build on our tech sector’s growing momentum, taking the sector to even greater levels of provincial, national and global success.