Canadian startups need to be first in line for our tech talent

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How the innovation ecosystem can help startups secure top-quality talent

Talent in Canada has become a hot commodity.

Canadian talent pools are experiencing faster growth than any other tech market across North America. That’s thanks to a few factors: the growing number of STEM graduates, competitive post-secondary institutions, globally recognized immigration programs, and a social fabric that is built on inclusivity and diversity. But is it something to celebrate with caution?

In spite of Canada’s talent momentum, home-grown startups are facing some serious challenges when it comes to securing tech talent for their own budding businesses. At the DMZ, a world-leading tech incubator located in Toronto, we’ve had the chance to see first-hand how startups are left at a disadvantage when it comes to landing talent, and how the rise of remote work has only exacerbated the issue even further.

Year after year, finding tech talent is consistently in the top three challenges that founders come to the DMZ seeking support for. And it’s not getting any easier.

Today’s workforce is no longer bound to a particular city, meaning the competition for tech talent today includes some of the largest corporate companies in the world. And remote jobs aren’t the only threat.

Every other day it seems another American tech giant announces plans to open a new office in Canada: Netflix, Reddit, and TikTok, among dozens of others. While it feels like a victory to see big names set up shop, they’ll also be eating up Canada’s top grade talent. Startups are increasingly recruiting globally to offset this gap, but retaining Canada’s exceptional talent in-house allows the ecosystem to remain self-sufficient and competitive.

With the means and resources to make ‘irresistible’ job offers, recruiting top STEM talent can seem like an impossible endeavour for the little guys.

The innovation ecosystem needs to band together to ensure startups can secure high quality talent. Having the right team with the right talent is essential to building and scaling successful tech solutions — it’s as simple as that.

So, how can the ecosystem help startups as they compete with the behemoths of the tech sector?

The role of post-secondaries

First, students of all ages need to be hungry for jobs in the tech startup ecosystem.

Universities and colleges alike play a large role in enticing post-secondary students to pursue careers in startups – it’s integral that institutions have a pulse on the innovation ecosystem and encourage entrepreneurial thinking amongst their students.

At Ryerson University, students are surrounded with startup culture, and are commended for entrepreneurial thinking and growth mindsets. The university’s foundation is guided by the desire to tackle real-world problems and foster innovative solutions.

While many colleges and universities in Canada have linked incubators and accelerators that encourage students to leap into a startup career, the trajectory from post-secondary to pursuing a career with a startup can be unclear for those who attend institutions that do not have access to the necessary resources or a startup friendly culture.

By molding eager minds to disrupt traditional models and services, students will be able to go on and not only strengthen the startup ecosystem and fill talent gaps, but pioneer new solutions.

Inspiring youth to jump into a startup career

This extends beyond post-secondary education. Secondary education also needs to light a fire in the minds of youth.

Even students as early as elementary can be inspired to tackle societal challenges by harnessing entrepreneurial thinking – it’s time to ignite that flame in young Canadians and introduce them to the exciting and rewarding career paths that startups offer.

Recognizing the imperative part secondary students play in Canada’s innovation ecosystem, the DMZ has catered programming that challenges young students to think critically and create tech-enabled solutions, and provides new learning tools to teach the latest tech skills.

This includes programs for high school students specifically, and programs that are open to both secondary and postsecondary students — allowing the former to be exposed to what could lie ahead by networking with more mature students who are further along their entrepreneurial journeys.

Nurturing the curiosity of secondary students and providing them with the resources they need to adequately evaluate a startup career is crucial to fostering a talent pipeline for startups.

The opportunity at hand for the DMZ and other incubators and accelerators

Finally, incubators and accelerators have a real opportunity to support Canadian startups in their quest to land talent. This, in large part, is due to how they are uniquely positioned to provide startups with entirely new pipelines of talent.

As nodes in the ecosystem, incubators and accelerators are often tapped to collaborate with various stakeholders, including the government, private corporations, educational institutions and social profit organizations.

Not only does this allow for incubators and accelerators to have continuous oversight on the different talent programs that the ecosystem offers, but they can see what initiatives actually yield long-term results, versus what only tackles the low hanging fruit.

Incubators and accelerators need to rethink ways in which it can support startups in hiring talent.

Rather than approaching talent support as talent support, the ecosystem needs to look at how talent pipelines can be approached like sales processes. How can startups stay positive in the face of rejection? How can startups sell themselves better to prospective talent? These are the types of resources that need to be provided to founders to better equip them to finesse their HR practises and secure the best talent.

The DMZ continues to rethink creative ways of being resourceful to founders as they look for talent, not just through job boards, but by building strategies and tactics to help support them in becoming alluring places of work. The reality today is that hiring practises need to evolve as quickly as the workforce at large changes.

Albeit a work in progress, the DMZ is committed to ensuring its founders have the resources to land talent now, and evolving its strategies and resources as needed as the times change.

Taking into account the massive shift the workforce has experienced these past 18 months, the way in which startups secure talent needs to also shift. This includes considering virtual employment opportunities and home office costs, childcare benefits to support dual income households, healthcare benefits and much more.

Unless startups are working to revolutionize HR through their product or service offering, they will need the support of other organizations to help guide them as they establish their processes.

There’s no question when it comes to the value of the startup ecosystem in Canada. The country is seen as a competitive startup landscape that brings in investment and fosters innovation, all while creating the jobs and companies of tomorrow.

Be that as it may, Canada’s startup success stories can be boiled down to the same integral components.

Startups require the right team with the right talent in order to build and scale tech-enabled solutions, and as an ecosystem, we all have responsibilities to not only live up to the name we have created for ourselves, but exceed it.