IT skills gap hampering growth in video game sector, panel says

A growing skills gap in the information technology sector is shackling Canada’s gaming and other tech industries, a panel of industry experts said Wednesday.

By Joseph Mathieu

More than 100 delegates from Ottawa’s tech sector gathered at the Canadian Museum of Nature for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s sixth annual Canadian Internet Forum, which focused on how broadband access is affecting the modern digital economy and the Canadian workforce.

A four-expert panel told the audience a lack of broadband access was widening the IT skills gap across many sectors of the Canadian economy.

Panellist Tanya Woods, vice-president of policy and legal affairs for the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, said a lack of digital literacy in young Canadians from kindergarten to post-secondary school will negatively affect the IT industry in the years ahead.

“We need people, and we need them a lot more than other sectors need them,” said Ms. Woods. “The reality is we need 200,000 skilled (IT) workers by 2020.”

A 2015 report said Canada’s video game industry had grown by 31 per cent in two years, with 472 active software studios contributing $3 billion to the country’s GDP.

ESAC, which helps develop policies to assist multi-platform video game industry, says that growth has been fuelled by a skilled workforce and a favourable business climate in Canada, and Ottawa is no exception.

“Ottawa’s got an amazing entertainment software industry,” Ms. Woods said. “It’s small but it’s growing, and there’s a lot of talent here worth celebrating.”

At the same time, many tech industry observers worry a looking shortage of qualified workers could hamper growth across the industry.

The recently released 2016 Ottawa Business Growth Survey found 47 per cent of local tech companies cited lack of a skilled workforce as their No. 1 issue.

This sentiment was echoed in CIRA’s June 2016 report, From Broadband Access to Smart Economies, which surveyed 300 IT decision-makers and 1,200 Internet users across the country.

The report suggested limited access to broadband Internet in parts of Canada is contributing to the lack of skilled workers. More than half of the IT decision-makers polled said it was very important for high school students to learn basic coding skills.

“It’s really hard to say what might happen in Ottawa specifically,” said Ms. Woods. “But watching the growth of companies like Shopify and Kinaxis, the tech needs in this city are huge. They need skilled workers and they’re having a hard time finding people.”