February 22nd, 2008
BC’s Got Talent
“Get it together,
Like your big brother Bob.
Why don’t you,
Get a haircut and get a real job” – George Thorogood, Get A Haircut
And Get A Real Job
The BC Technology Industry Association recently released their
TechTalentBC survey results to much fanfare. The survey results were
picked up by all the local newspapers that focused their stories on the
current crunch in hiring talented staff. The overall industry is growing
and the number of new jobs created by the industry is estimated at
5,000 for the coming year. That’s a whack of new positions when you
consider that there are 69,000 jobs today. No wonder it’s tough to find
Of course, this is good news that we have to solve problems related to
growing the industry. I remember 10 years ago when the first of
these types of surveys was done, it essentially boiled down to one
issue: Lower personal taxes so we can hire people and give them stock
options. Interestingly, that is not even on the radar anymore. In fact,
“stock options” didn’t even appear in the report anywhere. The idea of
giving stock options is still a core function of remuneration, especially
in the start-ups, but the salary and many other non-monetary factors
are more important to people getting hired.
If I can boil it down for you and possibly oversimplify things, there are
some real challenges in our market for recruiting talent. Using the
study findings (which you should read yourself at
) as well as the observations in the market that I am seeing every day,
here are some issues in getting those 5,000 talented people:
Over half of the available positions list at least 3 years of
relevant work experience needed. Newbies and graduates, the
obvious source of new employees, have it tough when jobs
require that kind of experience. Where do you get experience
when people won’t hire you?
The study talks about where to find talent. Most of the
companies find it in BC, which is poaching from others. No net
new jobs there. Other than graduates, the talent must come
from outside BC. A list of impediments to that includes the cost
of recruiting externally and the cost of living in Vancouver for a
new recruit (the strength of our dollar has improved our salaries
compared to the US, but it has made living here tougher for
We are an industry of small companies. Small companies tend
not to recruit well and have zero budget for training staff while
on the job. For example, we apparently have 1,360 clean
technology companies in BC (!) and only 179 in Life Sciences. If
we aren’t accidentally counting the Molly Maids of the world in
Cleantech, we certainly have an issue with hiring and training.
How do we train people to have better skills while on the job…
and not feel like we are spending our money to train them to
leave and get another job?
Really good hires tend to come from referrals. If your core staff
is excellent at what they do, chances are they know others like
them. The key is to make your existing good staff love your
company and love the culture. The study backs up the fact that
location, culture and access to recreation are key factors to
making your company desirable. How, exactly, do you improve
How do you hire a leader? Project leaders, team leaders and
those aspiring to management are hard to identify when filling
junior and intermediate positions. But in order to avoid the
tough recruiting down the road, the smart plan is to identify
those that will rise to leadership positions.
Specific to the start-up, where the job description becomes a
floating target as the company grows, how do you identify the
employee with the high tolerance for ambiguity? The person
who is a self-starter that can work without specific direction and
move the company forward… Some folks need direction all the
time. They tend to work at larger more structured companies.
In a nutshell, getting good people to work for you is hard in any
environment. The study says that this is even harder today in the
current labour constrained market.
Here are some of the things that associations and companies are
working on to help the situation in hiring good people and training
them while on the job:
Increasing awareness of things like the Provincial Nominee
Program, where you can get immigration sped up for skilled
workers outside of NAFTA countries. Only 23% of the study
respondents had even heard of it.
Offering resources through web sites like TechTalentbc.org to
assist companies without dedicated HR staff in best hiring
practices (much of this is still to come…).
Getting a handle on the proposed training credit that the BC
government announced a year ago (before they got all Green on
us) that supposedly gives a company money back for investing
in training courses.
Helping recruit the young, educated talent (25-34) that I spoke
of in the last column. They are the ones that are attracted to
Vancouver as a place to live and move here first, then look for
work. The 2010 Olympics will no doubt help with this…
The most important thing that you can do to hire better and identify
the best prospects is talk to professionals who do this for a living.
Even if you don’t use their services right away, they have vast
experience at this process. Talk to your mentors/advisors or investors
and get the scoop on identifying leaders. Learn from their mistakes as
well as their ideas for good hiring.
I can’t say this with enough emphasis… all of the successful companies
have very good people making decisions and making product. Finding
them, hiring them and keeping them amounts to the number one
critical success factor for your company.