Tech sec­tor still boom­ing, but re­cruit­ing a chal­lenge

Times Colonist - - Business - ANDREW A. DUFFY Times Colonist aduffy@times­colonist.com

Vic­to­ria’s high-tech in­dus­try has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years, but it’s still likely un­der-per­form­ing, ac­cord­ing to the head of the Vic­to­ria In­no­va­tion, Ad­vanced Tech­nol­ogy and En­trepreneur­ship Coun­cil.

Dan Gunn, chief ex­ec­u­tive of VIATEC, said the sec­tor might have grown 30 per cent since 2014, but it could have grown big­ger and faster.

“Grow­ing 30 per cent sounds like a lot, but hon­estly I think the sec­tor’s po­ten­tial was higher than that,” he said. “We un­der-per­formed and we un­der-per­formed for one spe­cific rea­son — we haven’t been able to find enough skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced tal­ent.”

Gunn was re­act­ing to a new eco­nomic im­pact study com­mis­sioned by VIATEC and writ­ten by Alan Chaffe, se­nior eco­nomics lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria. The study, which VIATEC will re­lease pub­licly on Mon­day, shows the tech sec­tor has a $5.22-bil­lion an­nual eco­nomic im­pact on the re­gion, with com­bined an­nual rev­enue of its 955 com­pa­nies of $4.06 bil­lion, and em­ploy­ing 16,775 peo­ple di­rectly.

“We were un­der the im­pres­sion and pretty con­fi­dent we were at $4 bil­lion in rev­enue based on the level of ac­tiv­ity since our last study, but it’s great to have that reaf­firmed,” said Gunn. “We are con­fi­dent of the num­bers and we know there are a num­ber of ways we could have used higher num­bers to get a big story, but we wanted some­thing ac­cu­rate and con­ser­va­tive.”

The study, which pre­dicts there will be in ex­cess of 1,000 tech firms in the re­gion by 2020, sug­gested the sec­tor is on tar­get to meet its goal of com­bined an­nual rev­enues of $10 bil­lion by 2030. “We wanted to set a big, hairy, au­da­cious goal to mo­ti­vate the sec­tor,” said Gunn. “This study re­vealed that not only is that at­tain­able, but highly likely that we are go­ing to hit that level of growth be­fore 2030, which is fan­tas­tic.”

But it also comes with prob­lems. Gunn said that kind of growth likely means as many as 15,000 more peo­ple work­ing in the sec­tor, lead­ing to the ques­tions of where those peo­ple will be found and how they will be housed when they are here.

The study pointed out hous­ing avail­abil­ity, af­ford­abil­ity and a skills short­age have been lim­it­ing fac­tors to growth among the re­gion’s tech firms.

Gunn said the re­gion needs more breadth of op­por­tu­nity — more com­pa­nies and larger com­pa­nies of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of roles in or­der to at­tract tal­ent.

But de­spite the chal­lenges, the study re­vealed a highly op­ti­mistic sec­tor in the re­gion.

It noted the firms re­spond­ing to the VIATEC sur­vey es­ti­mated to­tal rev­enues are ex­pected to in­crease by nearly 13 per cent this year alone, while 77 per cent of all re­spon­dents in­di­cated they ex­pect to hire ad­di­tional staff over the next two years.

If that hap­pens, to­tal em­ploy­ment in the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor would be ex­pected to hit 18,280 by the end of 2019.

The study sug­gested that op­ti­mism is be­cause of Greater Vic­to­ria’s qual­ity of life, ac­cess to an ed­u­cated work­force and close eco­nomic links within the Pa­cific Rim.

Gunn said stud­ies like this are im­por­tant both within and out­side the sec­tor.

“It shows the sec­tor the value of what they are of­fer­ing in their com­mu­nity, and see­ing if they are ahead or be­hind pace,” he said. “And it gets the at­ten­tion of pol­icy mak­ers to un­der­stand the value of it.”

Gunn said de­spite its growth and in­creas­ing pro­file, tech re­mains a pretty quiet in­dus­try, tak­ing up anony­mous real es­tate in the sec­ond floors of down­town build­ings.

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