B.C. expands efforts to recruit Calgary workers

Richard Tuck is coming to Calgary this weekend to help build a new wave of tech talent. He hopes to leave with a handful of the best for his own Vancouver company.

The chief executive of Riipen, an online platform that connects students with companies on short-term projects, is among a growing number of B.C. businesses looking to Alberta to fill specific job shortages in that province.

It’s a trend that has turned the tables on Alberta and its years-long and far-reaching hunt for labour help as the provincial economy boomed.

More than a dozen companies will participate in a career fair at the weekend HTML500 event here Saturday, part of the largest learn-to-code event in Canada. The job fair, at the Red and White Club at McMahon Stadium and hosted by the Vancouver Economic Commission, will put local coding graduates face-to-face with tech employers.

“There’s so many tech companies and we’re looking for the best and brightest,” said Tuck, whose company now employs six people full time. “Are they already here in Vancouver? Who knows? But odds are no. So we want to look everywhere we can.”

About 1,000 people have registered for 500 spaces at the Calgary event, said Ian McKay, chief executive of the Vancouver Economic Commission.

“Vancouver has become one of the largest tech centres in North America, and tech is one of the fastest growing segments of our city’s economy, so we have a challenge that our demand far exceeds our supply of talent,” he said.

The Vancouver Economic Commission said the city has thousands of open jobs in tech, innovation and digital entertainment. The HTML500 platform will provide some immediate relief for local companies looking to fill these positions, said McKay.

“We know that there is a demand from people of all backgrounds, all businesses. We think it’s matchmaking supply and demand and there’s a huge supply of jobs in the tech sector in Vancouver and there’s an enormous demand for good people,” he said.

“If you look at the bigger, broader picture, we know that over the past 10 or 12 years, 400,000 bright young Canadians have taken off to the U.S. thinking that was their only option for a career in technology. So our objective is to make it very clear to them, wherever they live, that there’s an option and the option is in Vancouver.”

For years, Calgary companies, politicians and economic development officials have travelled the country and farther afield to recruit workers. With oil prices in a tailspin and the threat of a recession hanging over Alberta, energy companies have been slashing budgets and workers.

It’s an opportune time for outside employers and politicians looking to fill their own labour needs by recruiting workers who suddenly find themselves unemployed or seeking a change.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark earlier this month appealed to unemployed oilpatch workers, saying her province needs skilled workers.

“Many workers from the oilsands who came from British Columbia will now be looking for work, so my call to them is come home,” Clark told delegates at a forest industry conference. “Come home, come home to your province where you were born and you want to raise your children.”

Clark said the B.C. government was considering placing billboard advertisements at the Fort McMurray airport that would appeal to former B.C. residents to return home for jobs.

ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch said he doesn’t expect an exodus of workers from Alberta to occur, even with the increasingly negative economic climate.

“I do think we’re moving into a softer labour market and maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that now we are going to be perhaps a bit of a target of some of this labour poaching,” he said.

“For a long time, Alberta and Alberta companies, we’ve been going elsewhere to bring people here. In 2015, we might see a little bit of a reversal of that and that maybe isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it might provide some opportunities for people who perhaps find themselves without work.”

A Statistics Canada study using tax data found about 29,000 British Columbians were working in Alberta in 2009 (the latest figures available). Last fall, for the first time in three years, more people from Alberta moved to B.C. than the reverse, according to B.C. Statistics data.

Amber Ruddy, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Calgary, said employee retention will be a priority for entrepreneurs.

“There is no doubt that many businesses will face challenges with the current economic downturn, but small businesses have the advantage of being nimble,” said Ruddy. “The last time we faced a recession, many entrepreneurs worked longer hours and cut their own wages to hold on to their valuable employees.”

Jeanette Sutherland, manager of workforce and productivity for Calgary Economic Development, said she expects workers to stay in Calgary, given the city still boasts one of the country’s strongest labour markets, even with the recent downturn.

“People’s outlooks and attachments to Calgary have changed. Compared to past downward cycles, we had fewer people leave in 2009 than in past cycles,” she said. “Our economy is more resilient today as it has ever been in the past. People see opportunities in Calgary, despite the recent decline in the price of oil.”

– Calgary Herald

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