I’ve worked in the digital industry for over 18 years now, predominantly in Toronto. I moved to Halifax for the opportunity to work for a great strategy-based agency (Revolve) and the ocean. I didn’t expect that my greatest challenge here isn’t getting business. It’s getting talent. That is something you really don’t have to worry about in large cities. I learned very quickly how this one thing can make a huge difference on the market. Suddenly being a digital Director also meant being a part time recruiter and HR manager.
Atlantic Canada is totally starving for local digital talent.
This is not a surprise. You hear this from managers, recruiters, and even from member groups like Digital Nova Scotia. How can digital shops be profitable unless this issue is solved? How can we expect to compete with Toronto, Vancouver, or even New York where their digital talent supply is far larger, more experienced, and less expensive? It just doesn’t add up. Let’s break it down this problem:
A: Poor digital talent supply
Here are the problems everyone already knows about. The first is lack of good local digital programs and graduates. The second one is brain drain: a ton of our locally trained talent leaves to get experience somewhere else. The third is lack of mid-level digital professionals forcing companies to hire more expensive higher-level professionals returning here to settle down. All of this adds up to a dangerously low supply of good local talent.
B: High execution cost
Here the story is not much better. Taxes are higher. Staff costs are higher. Market is smaller. I’m no economist (not entirely true) but even with the very admirable emphasis on ‘buy local’, Atlantic Canada is trying to do a lot with very little. Once again we’re at a disadvantage. No wonder many companies go to firms from big cities that can offer specialized turnkey solutions at much lower cost. All this eats into your profits.
C: Management of appeasement
So what do you do when you can’t find talented staff locally? Well, you put up with the ones you have. You entice them with great salaries. You appease them with tolerances. You bribe them with great benefits. In fact, despite their faults you keep them. You are scared of loosing them because having nobody is much worse.
D: Poor diversity
The fact is that many large Canadian cities enjoy many benefits of a diverse workforce. It allowed them to fill desperately needed skill gaps, provided inexpensive work force, and brought additional money to the local economy. Our success in this area has been quite limited.
What now then?
Lets dig deep into the core of Atlantic Canada to solve this dilemma. We are built on small business industry. We are innovative and resourceful. We are highly talented and business savvy. We are humble, kind, and tolerant people. We have always been a group of determined hard working pioneers working together. These are our strengths and differentiators. Let’s focus on the four things we can do:
How are we to prevent local talent moving? How are we to attract new talent to the Atlantic Canada? Quite simply, we do this by encouraging, developing, showcasing, and celebrating… our most innovative and award winning work in the region. This is to show our talented professionals there is plenty awesome work to be done here, your very home.
We must work together to succeed. Extend our neighborly humble spirit of hospitality and ‘buy local’ to work together instead of competing with each other. Instead of competing for staff, share them by working on projects together. We must collaborate within the industry between educators, business people, and the government. We must put aside our differences and personal agendas.
Our foundation must be education but one that’s rooted in the needs of the growing industry. Our innovation and collaboration will succeed or fail right here. The digital industry already outpaces curriculum development in most of Canada and many other countries. However, we are business savvy, resourceful, talented, and determined. Involving businesses in curriculum development will ensure employability and that skills taught remain current. Having a good supply of well-trained junior staff will because the foundation of filling the talent needs.
Outside influence will broaden our horizons, innovate pass our personal perspective, and diversify our methods. Such diversity will enrich our culture, but it will have a direct positive impact on our real estate, food, transit, education, technology, and many other industries. We must extend our hospitality and kindness to embrace and attract outside talent migrating here.