Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg's ambitious vision to create an immersive digital realm will be aided by thousands of Canadian hires and a new engineering hub in the country.
Facebook owner Meta announced Tuesday that it will add more than 2,500 office and remote workers to its Canadian contingent over the next five years and situate many of them in a Toronto engineering hub.
The hiring spree is meant to advance Meta's plans to build a metaverse, an emerging and interactive world making use of virtual and augmented reality to help people connect, enjoy entertainment and conduct business.
The company chose Canada because of its "deep talent pool" and "vibrant tech ecosystem," said Rachel Curran, Meta's public policy manager.
"Ontario, Toronto in particular, is becoming a real centre of the innovation economy and the tech economy and so we're jumping on board," she said.
The new hires will join Meta's first Canadian engineering teams working on WhatsApp, Messenger and Remote Presence, which build synchronous communications products allowing users to complete tasks like watching videos together on multiple devices.
Other hires will join the company's artificial intelligence research departments and Reality Labs, which have worked on the Oculus and Portal devices.
Many will be housed in a new downtown Toronto space larger than Meta's current home in the MaRS Discovery District, Curran said. She declined to share further details.
She did, however, note that many new hires will work remotely, helping the company attract even more talent.
"Canadians have in the past had to move to the U.S. to work for big tech companies frequently, so now we're saying 'no, you can stay in Canada,'" said Curran.
"You can stay in your community, you can stay close to your family, and still do one of these highly paid, highly skilled jobs of the future, which is a really neat evolution."
But that evolution worries startups and homegrown businesses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, they watched foreign giants Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix reveal Canadian hiring plans. Many intended to place workers in technical or engineering roles and some even said they would bolster hiring with new offices.
Many smaller, local companies feared they wouldn't be able to keep up with the higher salaries and bigger names these companies offer. To draw in staff, they turned to flashy benefits such as unlimited vacation, Fridays off and wellness stipends.
"When they're literally in your own country, your backyard, that increases the pressure even more," said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The timing couldn't be worse, she added, because many businesses are grappling with supply chain troubles and recovering from closures and high debt levels seen during the pandemic. Many can't even find workers to fill open positions and immigration levels are still taking time to bounce back.
"We have labour shortages in this country that are unprecedented and quite frankly, really unfathomable," said Nord.
Waterloo, Ont. innovation hub Communitech said as of February, the number of Canadian tech job postings doubled from pre-pandemic levels. It attributed much of the increase to tech companies thriving during the pandemic.
"The reality is the talent market is tight," said Kyra Jones, Communitech's head of talent.
"There is no question that this does put pressure on the Canadian founder, domestic organizations where you're scaling and you're trying to compete in this talent market, but I think there's other ways that you can compete."
For example, the tech sector's acceptance of remote work means borders don't inhibit global hiring the way they used to, so Canadian companies are often looking farther afield for themselves, she said.
Curran believes Meta's expansion will help Canadian businesses.
"These investments make the pie bigger. They make Toronto, they make Ontario more of an attraction for workers, for companies of different sizes," she said.
"As the system becomes stronger and as it grows, that's going to be good for everyone."
She also announced Meta will offer $510,000 in unrestricted grants to 17 Canadian research labs working on projects poised to advance metaverse-related innovations.
The recipients of the $30,000 grants include researchers from the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and University of Waterloo.
Meta will not place conditions on the funding or ask that it be applied to particular initiatives, Curran said.