Trevor R. Thomas
The high tech industry is booming, and with the growth of the sector comes growing pains. Here in BC, high tech companies are facing a number of unique issues.
Some of these issues are common in all workplaces, but others are due to the nature and culture of the high tech industry, as well as BC law and infrastructure. Tackling these challenges requires an understanding of the nuances of high technology work.
What are the Issues?
While there are a variety of issues being faced by tech companies and workers alike, two of the most common ones that we see are related to the recruitment and retention of employees.
Lack of Skilled Workers
Many tech companies in BC have trouble recruiting enough people to fill their roles – especially when it comes time to scale up their business. The primary issue here is that the market is highly competitive, and there simply aren’t enough workers in BC with the right skills.
When developers, engineers, and other high-tech professionals can’t be found locally, it can be hard for tech companies to grow their operations within BC.
Culture issues in the tech sector are complex. One common complaint is gruelling hours and unpredictable work schedules. These demanding work schedules, while often due to the nature of the industry itself, nonetheless lead to additional stress and burnout for employees, increasing turnover and decreasing employee morale.
Under the BC Employment Standards Act, high technology professionals are exempt from worker protections such as:
Mandatory meal breaks
Minimum daily pay
Hours free from work
Mandatory stat holidays
This means that employees are often working highly demanding schedules with little flexibility, and no overtime pay. While schedules like these can be hard on all workers, they are often especially difficult for people with children and families, which can further contribute to issues around culture and diversity.
In addition, some tech companies have come under fire for cultivating male-dominated workforces, or lacking pay equity. Though women and non-binary people are increasingly breaking into tech roles in recent years, the industry as a whole still sometimes has a certain reputation.
Why do These Issues Occur Within the Tech Sector?
The lack of skilled workers in BC is a many-faceted issue, but two major contributing factors are:
Insufficient post-secondary programs
While post-secondary institutions around BC are adding opportunities for students to gain high-technology skills and credentials, the development process is slow, and universities and colleges can’t produce enough graduates to meet industry demands. With relatively few high-tech workers in the market, people with the skills and experience to effectively teach these topics are also scarce.
Additionally, the high cost of living and housing demand in BC – and in the greater Vancouver area especially – often leads qualified high tech workers to relocate to tech hubs like Seattle or Silicon Valley. Cities like these in the US are still ahead of BC in terms of not only potential salaries, but in terms of the overall infrastructure and culture being geared toward high tech work.
How Can Companies in the Tech Sector Fix These Issues?
While solutions may vary depending on the specific needs and structure of an organisation, there are steps that most companies can take to help mitigate trouble.
Solutions for a Lack of Skilled Workers
In a fiercely competitive market, an organisation’s number one priority is attracting, and retaining, employees.
Many high-tech companies are known for slightly over-the-top office perks like foosball tables, beer on tap, and in-house baristas. All this is fine, and it’s possible that these kinds of perks do attract certain employees. But what we tend to see in the workforce today is that the majority of employees are looking for more grounded “perks” – such as a livable wage, extended health benefits, pay equity, and transparency from management.
Additionally, many workers – especially Millennial and Gen Z workers – want to work for companies that “walk the walk” when it comes to their social, environmental, and political values. People want their workplaces to take action where it counts, whether that’s by donating to causes that are in line with the company’s mission, fostering internal cultures of diversity and inclusiveness, or committing to social initiatives.
The key caveat here is that companies can’t just leverage empty promises to win over prospective employees. For better or for worse, high tech companies hold a great deal of social power in today’s world, and workers are increasingly wary of working for a company that swings that power in opposition to their personal values and interests.
Developing an internal culture that values diversity can also be beneficial from a standpoint of recruiting skilled workers – when you demonstrate that you are truly willing to hire anyone with the right skills, regardless of background, you can potentially access a much wider pool of talent.
Solutions for Culture Issues
In a post-pandemic world, flexible work is becoming the norm, and workers are more aware than ever that they have rights and options when it comes to where, when, and how they get their work done.
While monitoring remote employees is a concern for many organisations, a lot of employees tend to be more productive when they’re given the opportunity to develop a schedule and work style that suits their life. Flexible start times and work-from-home arrangements are generally conducive to high-tech work, and these perks can be hugely beneficial especially to workers with children and families, or those who live further away from a physical office. Offering perks like these can attract a more diverse workforce, which can help to foster a more inclusive culture.
Moving away from a male-dominated reputation also begins with encouraging more females and non-binary students to enter STEM pathways in school. One way that companies can encourage this is to form relationships with high schools and post-secondary institutions and potentially offer co-op placements to drive more interest in tech careers.
Rather than searching for outside talent which may be harder to come by, companies can invest in training and upskilling for existing employees. Plenty of high-tech companies have a wealth of potential talent already working for them; providing internal upskilling opportunities can also be a great retention strategy, as many employees are more likely to stay at a job if they feel there is room for advancement.
The Bottom Line
While the nature of the high tech industry has led to unique legal issues for this sector, the solutions to many of these issues are the same as they would be within just about any industry.
Companies that commit to giving their employees room to grow and fostering a positive culture are on a good path toward meeting these unique challenges. As with many workplace issues, a great first step is just treating your employees like people; providing space where everyone can express their ideas, and making an effort to craft inclusive policies.
Do you own or manage a company in the tech sector? Have questions or concerns? Call or email us to book a legal consultation – Ascent is here to help.