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After tech talent hiring boom in Ottawa, has a slowdown started?

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It’s been a busy two years for Ottawa software developer Zeeshan A Zakaria.

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Pre-pandemic, he saw healthy demand for the kind of work he and others like him can do — software engineers, programmers, developers, system designers. But in the COVID era, when digital became the way of doing just about everything, the clamour for these skillsets was cranked to 11.

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Zakaria, an independent contractor for the public and private sector, was “overwhelmed by the number of calls I would receive from different agencies and employers,” including those from the U.S., with remote work embraced at a level never previously seen.

While he’s done this work locally for over a decade, specializing in mobile app development, it wasn’t just veterans who benefitted from the high-tech hiring boom. “I know many other people who got jobs who were not able to find a job before,” said Zakaria.

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Meanwhile, employees with experience have found reason and opportunity to move from one job to other, better-compensated ones. It’s not uncommon for software developers to jump ship every two or three years, said Mike DiDomizio, who, like Zakaria, has been doing this work in Ottawa for a decade.

“What a lot of developers find is that staying at a job, your salary kind of stagnates, where jumping frequently — like you’ll get big boosts, $20,000, $30,000 … salary increases,” said DiDomizio, speaking to this newspaper in July.

It’s a major consideration even for those who aren’t particularly money-motivated, given the significant rise in costs of living. And there’s been plenty of energy devoted to luring talent.

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“If you’ve got the skills and you’re active on LinkedIn,” said DiDomizio, “recruiters will hound you.”

There were more job vacancies in Ottawa for “computer and information systems professionals” than for any other occupational category, except for food counter attendants and kitchen helpers, in the second quarter of 2022, according to StatCan vacancies data broken down by three-digit national occupational classification (NOC) code. These were also the job types with the highest vacancy totals at the provincial level.

The bulk of these tech-job vacancies in Ottawa were for computer programmer and interactive media developer positions, software engineers and designers and information systems analysts and consultants, in descending order of magnitude.

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Total vacancies in Q2 locally for this category of tech professional were up more than 900 from the same quarter a year earlier, to 2,650, and have been on the rise year-over-year since 2016. However, the total matched that seen in Q1, ending four consecutive quarters of vacancy growth; including a jump of more than 600 vacancies between last three months of 2021 and first of 2022.

What Paul Vallée saw in the local data for the earliest months of the year were “the consequences of a very, very hot Q1,” he told this newspaper in a July interview. But much had changed since that time, said the CEO of Tehama, an Ottawa-headquartered remote-work software firm, and he was observing a shift in the tech talent market.

Over the summer, Google shared plans to tap the brakes on hiring with a potential recession looming, and other tech companies have made similar announcements. The Globe and Mail reported in mid-July that Shopify was cancelling fall internship positions. Not long after, the Ottawa e-commerce software giant announced a 10 per cent reduction in its workforce, with CEO Tobi Lütke saying he misjudged the longevity of the pandemic surge in online retail activity.

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The staffing downturn in the tech sector, in Vallée’s opinion, could be attributed in part to diminished company valuations. And he was expecting the cooled environment for tech hiring to continue, as the Bank of Canada works to achieve the same with the inflation menacing the economy, by way of rising interest rates.

“When the cost of money goes up, and the value of your investments go down, this creates a lot of pressure on businesses, and they will be much more careful with hiring than they had been during the time of the overheating.”

The result? Vacancy numbers that could look quite different from those seen earlier in the year, with people less likely to be poached or feel secure jumping ship for a new job. Short-term, it might be a “painful time to join the technology industry,” as Vallée put it.

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Despite the high-profile tech layoffs and hiring freezes of late, Sarah Doughty was still bullish about the prospects for local tech talent.

The VP of talent operations at Ottawa-headquartered technical recruiting firm TalentLab, Doughty disputed the notion that a widespread slowdown in high tech was setting in. Rather, she contended that it’s segments of the sector that were experiencing a downturn, such as e-commerce and cryptocurrencies. 

“We’re hearing about little pockets within high tech that I think were potentially overvalued to begin with, perhaps the product wasn’t mature, there wasn’t really great market penetration in that vertical yet, it was a bit more of an R&D-motivated approach to business. Those companies are always at different points going to be more volatile,” said Doughty, in an August interview. “But when we look at sort of the core of high tech, where we talk about, you know, software as a service, we talk about digitization and underlying platforms that are being built at the business level and … telecommunications, those are not experiencing the same level of volatility.”

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She also predicted that an underlying shortage and competition for tech talent in North America would continue to push employers to set up offices in Canada. 

In the latest annual ranking of North American tech talent markets by commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE, released in July, Ottawa claimed the 13th spot behind Canadian competitors Toronto (ranked third) and Vancouver (eighth).

Ottawa has the highest concentration of tech talent on the continent, according to CBRE, at 11.6 per cent of the city’s total employment last year, with the workforce having grown in size by 22 per cent or 14,800 workers since 2016. Government was the top employer of tech talent in town, followed by the core high-tech industry and then the finance, insurance and real estate industry.

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“There are economic headwinds that may impact tech talent hiring in the year ahead. Announced layoffs and hiring slowdowns and freezes by tech employers may, if sustained, loosed the tight labour market for tech talent,” the report stated, adding that employers have generally been reluctant to make major cuts to their tech talent teams and instead have looked to sales and admin staff when they’ve had to make layoffs. “Longer term, tech will continue to grow from further technological advances and adoption.”

A welcome prediction, no doubt, at Carleton University, which saw a 30 per cent increase in computer science enrolment this fall compared to 2021. Demand has increased dramatically in recent years and they’ve opened up more student spots in response, said Christine Laurendeau, a full-time instructor at the university’s school of computer science and its associate director for recruitment.

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“I think students are coming in, they are seeing that … after four years, a bachelor’s degree, they can get a really, really good paying job in this field, right away. And they want to take advantage of that. Sometimes that motivation comes from the students themselves. Sometimes it comes from their parents who just want to make sure that their kids end up with solid jobs and satisfying careers,” she said.

While  it’s not a natural fit for everyone – she advised any potential student to consider whether it’s something they really want to do, and what the field actually entails — Laurendeau shared her support for initiatives that increase exposure to computing as a career possibility, such as the Ontario government’s science curriculum update to include coding as well as outreach to underrepresented groups.

She’s also troubled by the programmer stereotypes she sees represented in the media and popular culture — the nerd with no social life or social skills — seeing their potential to turn women, in particular, away.

“There could be an entire treasure trove of students who do have a natural ability for programming, but who believe that they wouldn’t be interested because they just don’t have the opportunity to give it a chance.”

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After tech talent hiring boom in Ottawa, has a slowdown started? Source link After tech talent hiring boom in Ottawa, has a slowdown started?

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