Culture key to attracting top tech talent, experts tell Kanata panel

Employers need to offer more than just competitive salaries if they expect to attract and retain the best and brightest tech talent, a group of experts said during a panel discussion last week in Kanata.

By Joseph Mathieu

“It’s not just about what does your company do,” said Jessica Rowen, the national marketing strategist for talent attraction at Adecco Employment Services.

“It’s what your company can offer to these young talents. Job seekers are looking beyond salaries; they want to see how they can contribute to an employer’s culture and that they have an opportunity to grow.”

Andrew Reeves, owner and principal architect at Linebox Studio, agreed today’s most sought-after workers want to feel like they have a stake in their employer’s company beyond simply toiling for a paycheque.

“A part of employee retention is the day-to-day experience,” said Mr. Reeves, a 2015 OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient who is best known for designing Shopify’s headquarters at Performance Court. “We try to create spaces that promote innovation and collaboration.”

Hosted by Welch LLP, the nine-person panel discussion at the Marshes Golf Club on June 23 was moderated by Ross Morgan, the Managing Director of CFO4Results, a firm that offers part-time CFO services to companies.

According to the recently released 2016 Ottawa Business Growth Survey, attracting and retaining talent is still the most significant challenge for local tech companies. The survey also found that the tech industry suffers most from a lack of skilled workers.

Bill MacGregor, an immigration lawyer and partner at Gowling WLG, suggested tech employers look internationally for talent if they can’t find it in Canada.

Depending on their country of origin, he said, foreign nationals could have post-grad work permits that could allow them to eventually become permanent employees.

ProCorp Financial president Patrick Shanahan told the panel job seekers had increased their demand for flex-plans, which give employees the choice of their benefits. Other perks that seem to entice talent range from monthly parking permits and gym memberships to group retirement and RRSP matching plans, he added.

When it comes to hiring executives, more and more firms are looking at filling senior management roles with part-time employees, said Candace Enman, a contract CFO and president of WelchGroup Consulting.

“A part-time CFO is offering that skill set at a fraction of the cost,” she said. “They can still build your financial models, organize cash flow, financing and forecasting, and they will also build those teams.”

Hans Molin, the president of Syntronic R&D Canada, also noted there is a growing trend toward companies outsourcing their HR departments. Syntronic specializes in a flexible workforce that has 600 available hires around the world.

Seated to his left was Dave Senior, leader of global product development for Nokia, who hires Syntronic to outsource some of his software developers.

On the question of how to avoid bad hires, Mr. Senior said that Nokia turns its final hiring decisions over to the working-level engineers because they know better than anyone what the job demands.

“They are pretty brutal,” he said. “They want to make sure the people coming in are pulling their weight.”

Mr. Senior added that when a company finds a talented candidate, it’s important to move quickly so the worker doesn’t get snapped up by a competitor.

“Speed is of the essence,” he said.

Ms. Enman said a business must understand its key competencies, its current strengths in people and which skill set is missing on that team before settling on a candidate. She also stressed the importance of building a strong company culture and treating employees with respect.

“Think of the people in your company as the personality of your culture,” she said.