Senior Director of Digital Economy, Technology, & Innovation, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Head of Talent & Academy, Communitech
Shifting from the “great resignation” into the “great retention”.
When it comes to the future of work, there are a lot of unanswered questions and mysteries about what the future actually holds. One thing is clear: the needs of talent will dictate the future of work — and the talent that we’re all competing to attract is looking for workplaces that offer human experiences. To stand out in this market, leaders of organizations across sectors, jurisdictions, and sizes must innovate their employee experience offerings to shift “the great resignation” into “the great retention.”
Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, Senior Director of Digital Economy, Technology, and Innovation with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, sat down with Kyra Jones, Head of Talent and Academy at Communitech — one of North America’s largest innovation hubs, which is based in Southwestern Ontario and supports more than 1,600 start-ups, scale-ups, and at-scale tech organizations — to discuss why fostering an inclusive, future-forward organizational culture is a key ingredient of any successful talent attraction and retention strategy.
How would you describe the current state of Canada’s talent market, particularly in Canada’s tech ecosystem?
Canada’s tech ecosystem has experienced record-breaking growth over the past year. For example, capital raised by Communitech member companies reached $2.8 billion in 2021 — almost as much as the previous 10 years’ worth of investment combined. While we’ve grown to just shy of 26,000 tech workers here in the Waterloo Region, our tech ecosystem needs more talent to keep up with its current growth trajectory.
That’s impressive, and growth is great. To keep that greatness, how have the past two years and the early onset of “the future of work” changed the talent landscape for Canada’s tech firms?
The shift in how and where we work was in motion before the pandemic, but now many people — employers and employees alike — have had a chance to see that work can look and feel different than it has traditionally. The old approach of compartmentalizing work and home is gone. The old dichotomy of “work-life balance” has been replaced with a more flexible and integrated approach to building a lifestyle that aligns with both skills and values. The firms that are winning are embracing future-forward values as part of their corporate culture.
What are some future-forward values that companies should embrace to stand out in the increasingly competitive talent market, including DEI?
In addition to flexibility, people want meaning and purpose in the workplace — especially younger workers. Making sure that your organization has a clear and positive mission is the key. For example, at Communitech, one of our core principles is Tech for Good®. We’re here to help founders create technology and companies that change the world for the better. That has legitimately helped us make some amazing hires in the last several months alone. Additionally, it’s absolutely vital that organizations have strong policies that support and champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplaces.
How can companies of every size, from small firms to scaling shops and global players, set themselves apart with a future-forward culture?
The companies that will stand out and retain the best talent will be those that offer the flexibility and personalization that come with embracing the “future of work.” Companies of all sizes need to understand what talent wants and ensure that their offers match up — things like flexibility, diversity, inclusion, and meaning are critical for talent attraction. People want to work for purpose-driven organizations that support both their personal and professional lifestyles. For example, research indicates that a four-day workweek can boost both productivity and employee wellness. Embracing the “future of work” also means thinking bigger about how and when we engage with work — offering sabbaticals, having clear policies that support pursuing hobbies and turning those into side hustles, and being intentional about career planning.
Moving from local to global, what out-of-the-box tools can smaller firms apply to find the niche, top-tier talent they need to grow from homegrown start-up to global scale-up?
First, understand the talent market more deeply. Consider using technology to augment your hiring and recruitment process as well as retention. For example, Plum is a Canadian technology company offering an AI-led talent assessment platform that ditches resumes in favour of behavioural assessments.
Second, employers should also look beyond our borders. Employer-of-record services, such as Communitech’s Outposts program, work with companies of all sizes to help hire international talent from previously unreachable markets. I’ve heard people say that to solve a problem you have to make it bigger. Competing globally, and not just locally, for top talent helps you to do just that.