08/07/2018 10:14 EDT | Updated 08/07/2018 13:01 EDT

Hiring Foreign Workers In Tech Has Nothing To Do With 'Cheaper'

It's about skills. And thanks to Trump, there's never been more talent for Canadian companies to choose from.

Canada has always been "the little brother to the U.S." on the world stage, noticeably smaller in many ways. Our tech sector is hitting a growth spurt and we've had growing pains until now. This little brother opened 11,500 new tech sector positionslast year, and the growing pain is the fact we needed to fill those positions yesterday.

About a year and a half ago, many of us in the industry estimated that the Trump administration's tighter H1-B Visa requirements (for temporary non-immigrant work) would inevitably have some kind of effect on their influx of foreign tech-sector professionals.

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Though big brother's immigration belt-tightening was expected, there was no way to predict just how many positions and people it may affect, nor how that would play out in Canada.

Would there be more interest in the Canadian tech sector if it was harder to find employment in the U.S. as an immigrant? Might there even be more U.S. applicants looking to make a move, disenchanted by the new administration?

Opportune timing

Hiring personnel in tech want to find skilled employees because we're looking to grow our businesses. When not enough are available locally, why not seek foreign workers? Is it beneficial to wait and see if more Canadians will appear in five years with the skills we need? No, because by then the industry has changed so much, the position may itself become irrelevant and outdated.

Historically, Canada's tech sector has been lower-profile than that of Silicon Valley, in regards to the tech businesses we've typically seen, explained Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of start-up incubator MaRS. The very nature of the tech business in Canada — from tech infrastructure, to fintech or digital solutions for the energy sectors — make it less visible abroad.

Changing tides

While we find that in our part of the tech sector we haven't seen thousands of Americans applying, a Canadian study (by MaRS) reports that Toronto tech-sector employers had a higher rate of U.S. applicants — 82 per cent if applicants were from the U.S. My Canadian colleagues in the industry have also personally seen a boom across our little "Silicon Valley," the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.

They'll hopefully remember that Canada was in their corner when they were looking for better opportunities.

Further, we have seen an enormous increase in applicants from Brazil, India and China, and some modest applicant numbers from the U.K. and Australia. There's a real influx of tech job seekers from all areas of the world, and so the interest in Canadian tech sector jobs is there and growing.

Turning opportunity into long-term results

Now that the immigration situation has turned the attention of prospective employees towards us, we need to make them take notice by reaching out, showing them the advantages of employment in the Canadian tech sector.

Slow immigration and fast job demands just don't go together, so new barriers are likely to push the applicant to either delay, re-think or even cancel an immigration application. It's all about perception.

The opportunity now exists for Canadian tech companies to "plant their company flags" in the countries that we see the influx coming from — they'll hopefully remember that Canada was in their corner when they were looking for better opportunities.

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The foreign applicants will most likely remember that these companies wanted talented people and were willing to assist with the barriers to entry — not just with immigration obstacles, to clear, but culturally. I believe it's a company's job to soften the landing their foreign worker just made.

Some companies already offer huge incentives to their employees to assist with moving allowances, general wellness and personal well-being. Such incentives would help foreign workers feel more at home more quickly, generating loyalty and thus retention.

On the note of retention, it's important to recognize that foreign workers, if properly onboarded, are easier to retain than domestic workers, generally because they're grateful for the opportunity to start a different life and possibly bring over family. It's an investment both in the company and the Canadian economy overall.

Bumps in the road

Of course, there's skepticism. I've heard some questions about foreign job placements and millennial unemployment — "Why should we want to bring in foreign talent when there are college students out of work?" — but the truth is we can't fill all the spots we need domestically.

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Our industry is simply growing too fast. If you have the skills that are in demand, there is an opening for you somewhere. The demand is increasing and will continue to increase. If you want a job in tech in Canada, you can get one. And it isn't about finding someone "cheaper," either. In fact, it often costs companies money to sponsor a foreign applicant.

The obvious signs of growth will spur a demand for the next generation of students to aim for the tech sector, in greater numbers, with greater confidence that the Canadian tech sector will need them, too, as it continues to grow.

There will be skeptics who say we're just looking for cheaper workers (but, as previously mentioned, it isn't cheaper — especially when providing onboarding and landing incentives), or that we're doing it to make some kind of political statement. That's fine. Let them make noise. I have only one thing in mind when it comes to hiring workers, foreign or domestic.

I just want the best candidate, and thanks to Big Brother, the selection is ripe for the picking.

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