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New techNL team dedicated to shrinking technology sector's talent gap at multiple levels


Provincial funding creates five positions dedicated to ensuring right workers can fill jobs

Newfoundland and Labrador will soon have a dedicated team working exclusively to make sure the right candidates are available to fill jobs in the province’s growing technology sector.

A three-year commitment from the provincial government will see $1.87 million go to techNL to support its Tech Talent Strategy. This will result in the creation of a five-person team within techNL consisting of a manager and four other employees, each of whom will tackle a unique angle when it comes to addressing the sector’s talent gap.

As techNL CEO Paul Preston explained Thursday during an announcement at ClearRisk’s St. John’s office, this talent gap exists due to a combination of factors, including the province’s population decline and a lack of awareness about the opportunities available to people with coding, software development and other applicable skillsets. There are now 6,500 jobs in the sector, and techNL expects a further 2,000 jobs will be created in the next three-to-five years.

“At techNL, our number-one priority is the talent pipeline and developing that pipeline of talent to help our companies to grow and to scale,” he said. “It’s the biggest challenge they’ve faced over the last several years.”


Paul Preston is the CEO of techNL. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Paul Preston is the CEO of techNL. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Areas of focus

The four employees working underneath the new manager will each be tasked to focus on one of the four key areas that techNL and its members have identified. One will work specifically with local tech talent and another will dedicate their time to expanding opportunities for immigrants. There will be a skills mentor working with people who may not have the right skills now but have an interest in taking the steps to get them through education. To address the youngest employee prospects, a high school technology lead will expand the sector’s reach at the K-12 level.

“These key pillars really describe well how techNL and how our technology industries are looking forward to the future and putting the necessary resources and efforts into making sure that all jobs have people to be filled within them,” Immigration, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne said Thursday.


ClearRisk president and CEO Craig Rowe. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
ClearRisk president and CEO Craig Rowe. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Unrealized potential

Craig Rowe, the CEO of ClearRisk, a software company devoted to risk management, said there’s nothing worse than unrealized potential.

“Our situation is that we have more opportunities than we have people to fill those positions,” said Rowe, who also chairs the board of directors for techNL.

ClearRisk employs just under 30 workers, and Rowe anticipates the company could double its workforce in the next 12 to 18 months. He said acting now to build a talent pipeline for the tech sector will help the province stay competitive and thrive.

“What we’re trying to do is build a more digitized and more advanced technology economy in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that includes all industries — oil and gas, fishery, mining, you name it — that can benefit from more advanced technology, advanced skills, advanced digitization. And that’s only going to come through more training.”

Not all companies in the province have the same level of knowledge, he said, when it comes to trying to attract immigrants who may have a skillset not available within Newfoundland and Labrador’s labour market. In a case like this, he said techNL’s lead on immigration will be able to help those companies fill that gap.


Rebecca Cook is the human resources manager for Avalon Holographics. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Rebecca Cook is the human resources manager for Avalon Holographics. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Benefiting the province

Right now, the Newfoundland and Labrador tech sector is a $1.6-billion industry, and Rowe expects that figure will grow substantially in the years ahead.

“If we’re a $4-billion or $5-billion industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, but half of the talent works elsewhere, how is that in the best interest of the province overall? Great for the companies, but not nearly as much benefit is going to accrue here as we want to,” he said. “We need that robust talent pipeline.”

Avalon Holographics, a St. John’s company engaged in 3D technology, has 50 employees. Human resources manager Rebecca Cook said the company is often challenged trying to fill different positions.

“Our recruitment strategy includes attracting people from the province, but also attracting people who may be living away and want to come home and work in Newfoundland and Labrador as well,” she said, adding about half of the company’s employees are originally from the province.

“We’re excited about this announcement today,” Cook said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful program, especially getting in at the high school level. We ultimately believe people want to work here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we also think they want to work for some pretty cool tech companies like ourselves, and there’s others out there as well.”

Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John's.

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