Varcoe: Calgary tech companies get creative to hire big-city talent

“People are now starting to see that there are these opportunities in Calgary”

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After working in London for nearly four years, Ryan Sekulic decided to return to Canada and find a new job in the tech sector in 2020.

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While he grew up in Cochrane and attended the University of Calgary before moving overseas, his family lived in the Toronto area at the time. It seemed like a natural place to seek a tech position, given the size of the sector in Canada’s largest city.

But it didn’t take long for Sekulic to realize he was heading west.

“I looked at Toronto, I looked at Vancouver and I looked at Calgary,” the 28-year-old data analyst said.

“No matter how good I looked, as a young person coming back to Canada, I couldn’t make the math work for any of the jobs that were doable in Toronto or Vancouver…I didn’t see a future in any of those jobs. really expensive places and it brought me back to Calgary.

Sekulic found a job with online payment company Helcim last spring.

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Calgary’s booming tech sector hopes such stories will become commonplace as the industry takes off, but it needs more “talent” to fuel the journey.

Local startups raised record amounts of venture capital last year and have ambitious plans for growth, but they’re also embracing the global challenge of finding enough skilled workers to turn their strategies into reality.

Faced with competition to attract new employees for high-demand positions, such as software developers or data analysts, companies are thinking outside the box.

Some are looking for employees in expensive cities like Toronto, where the average price of a single-detached home was over $2 million last month, compared to just under $600,000 in Calgary.

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“People are now starting to see that there are these opportunities in Calgary,” said Brad Parry, CEO of Calgary Economic Development.

Other companies are hiring new faces from post-secondary institutions with plans to provide additional training.

Some are moving into attractive new downtown offices with a host of amenities to attract people to the workplace or they are looking for other unique ways to recruit staff.

“We have purchased a corporate condo and are making it available for all employees who are not in Calgary to come stay here and work with the team,” said Athennian CEO Adrian Camara, whose software company officially opened a new headquarters in the Beltline this week. .

“There are a number of employees who are not from Calgary who are actively talking about moving here.

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Athennian, which has developed cloud-based software used by legal teams, has around 100 staff, including 70 in the city, and plans to grow to around 300 in the next two years.

The company has hired staff from other countries such as Brazil. It is also thinking about offering candidates an allowance or a moving bonus to come to town.

“We’re talking with other tech companies about having some sort of coordinated program in place on this. We just think there is strength in numbers,” Camara said.

There are over 2,300 open tech-related jobs in the city today.

Post-secondary institutions are creating additional training places while new programs are “retraining” Albertans to work in industry, but there are also more companies looking for staff.

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There were 1,627 tech companies in Calgary last year. In 2018, that number was 767, according to research by Alberta Enterprise Corp.

International players such as Amazon Web Services, Infosys and Mphasis are also increasing their presence in the city.

And Calgary start-ups are raising more money, allowing them to grow.

In Calgary, 66 deals were reported last year that raised $500 million, according to a report by the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association. (Toronto tech players have attracted nearly $5.9 billion in venture capital.)

With more money comes greater expectations.

“Patient capital no longer exists. You’re lifting a big chunk of dough and expected to have a fully functioning senior team in less than a quarter,” Parry said.

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“So this idea of ​​investing in training to develop the skill set is fantastic.”

The new year is off to a strong start for some fundraising companies. Validere Technologies announced this week that it has raised $55 million in a Series B funding round.

Validere provides a commodity management platform to the energy industry and its software can create a “digital fingerprint” for oil and gas molecules, said Mark Le Dain, the company’s senior vice president.

The new funds will allow Validere to hire more staff in its offices in Calgary, Toronto and Houston. The company has tripled the number of local employees in the past two years and hopes to double that number in the next two years.

“As an owner-operator, I would say it’s stressful to find good talent,” said Le Dain. “But as a city citizen, I am very happy that these forces are pushing people and businesses to retrain to fill the void – or just to hire and move people to what is a leading city in North America.”

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Helcim has grown to 115 people from around 50 in June 2020. It expects to reach 250 by the end of next year, CEO Nic Beique said.

The fintech company is looking to hire for a range of jobs, from marketers and software developers to financial and data analysts.

With competition to find middle and senior employees, the company has focused on hiring new graduates or junior staff and providing them with training.

“We are seeing people, especially from Vancouver and Toronto, applying for positions at Helcim and being willing to move. We have hired half a dozen people from these cities in the past six months,” Beique added.

“It’s a combination of the cost of living completely out of reach for young professionals in these big cities now, plus the fact that Helcim is…willing to invest in this training.”

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It’s hard to quantify how many tech workers might move to the province, but interprovincial migration to Alberta turned positive in the second half of 2021 after five years of going in the wrong direction.

“We are starting to see an influx of people migrating to Alberta and we expect this trend to continue,” said Employment Minister Doug Schweitzer.

“A lot of that talent comes for jobs in technology and innovation.”

Add Sekulic to the list of people coming to Alberta — or, in his case, returning — for a new job in the tech industry.

And since his arrival last year, he has also become an owner.

“Calgary has a lot to offer young people starting out in their careers,” added Sekulic.

“It was a fantastic decision.”

Chris Varcoe is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

[email protected]

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