Investment in Sask. tech industry shaping up to be a record year

A pair of Saskatoon tech companies raised millions of dollars recently and will be going on major hiring sprees, if they can find enough skilled workers to fill the positions. “Our hiring plans take us to about 150 additional staff in this next year,” Vendasta CEO Brendan King told Saskatoon Morning’s Leisha Grebinski.

But will there be enough skilled workers to meet the growing demand?

Saskatchewan's tech industry will be looking for hundreds of employees this year. (Shutterstock)

A pair of Saskatoon tech companies raised millions of dollars recently and will be going on major hiring sprees, if they can find enough skilled workers to fill the positions.

"Our hiring plans take us to about 150 additional staff in this next year," Vendasta CEO Brendan King told Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski.

Vendasta, whose online software gives small- and medium-sized businesses access to digital platforms for services such as marketing, human resources and accounting, raised $119.5 million in venture capital financing.

Over the past two years the Vendasta's workforce has grown to about 525 employees from about 285.

Vendasta CEO Brendan King says the company will be hiring up to 150 people this year. (Submitted by Brendan King)

Jordan Boesch, CEO of 7Shifts, which builds scheduling platforms for the restaurant industry, said a recent investment of $21.5 million will likely mean an additional 20 to 30 tech jobs with his company, which employs about 125 people.

"We're really excited to keep growing the business and adding more jobs to the ecosystem," Boesch said. 

The hard part may be finding all of that skilled labour in an industry that has grown during the pandemic.

"The market is really competitive and the landscape has changed dramatically since the pandemic," Boesch said. "Prior [to this] we were used to obviously hiring on a local scale to some degree for certain roles. Now we're at least competing nationwide, if not in North America for many roles."

CEO Jordan Boesch said 7shifts has grown from about three employees in 2014 to 125. (Matthew Howard/CBC News)

Remote work during the pandemic has opened up recruitment in the sector. 

"We have folks locally looking at opportunities not just in Saskatoon, but looking at opportunities within Toronto, New York, San Francisco and various other places."

The search for talent

King said the company has brought people in from all over the world, but that his preference is still for local talent.

"There's a lot of raw talent in Saskatoon and in Saskatchewan," King said. "We take as many as we can get right here in Saskatoon. It's just that we often can't fill the demand."

"We've brought in this last six months, over 20 people from outside of North America to Vendasta, who actually have moved to Saskatoon.

Boesch said while he is concerned about the pool of talent that's going to be available, the labour crunch will spawn creative solutions.

"We're scrappy and we can figure out a lot of solutions to the problems that we're facing in the tech industry. But I do think there's a shortage just in terms of the demand that's been created from the pandemic."

SaskTech Association president Aaron Genest says this will be a record year for investment in the Saskatchewan technology sector. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Record year for investment

Aaron Genest, the applications engineer manager at Siemens Software and president of the SaskTech Association, said this will be a record year for investment, surpassing 2019 when almost $100 million was invested.

"Pre-COVID we had a record year for venture capital investment in Saskatchewan tech companies," Genest said. "Then everything dipped (because of COVID), people turned off the taps for a while. Uncertainty is the enemy of investment, but this shows that we're right back on track."

Genest said it will be tough for companies to recruit enough workers despite the best efforts of government, post-secondary institutions and tech companies themselves.

"Everybody is doing their darnedest to try to meet the emerging demand for people with digital skills across a wide range of domains, but it's not enough," said Genest, adding his company is also in the middle of a hiring spree. 

Genest said it will be hard to find people for senior positions in areas like management, developers, technical salespeople and technical marketers.

"Those skill sets didn't exist 15 years ago … certainly not in Saskatchewan. And so now we're trying very hard to create those people. But quite frankly, most of those people are people we are going to bring in." 

Genest said you don't have to just get a degree in computer science to get into the tech sector.

"Computer science is one of the best, but so is electrical and computer engineering, engineering, physics, anything that's going to give you some background in technology," he said.

If tech isn't your thing the industry is also going to need people with marketing, mining, finance, agriculture and sales backgrounds.

"So it's not so much: 'Go out and get a computer science degree,'" Genest said. "It's: 'Go on, get whatever degree you're interested in, but make sure that you're getting the technical experience as well."


Scott Larson works for CBC News in Saskatoon.

With files from Saskatoon Morning