Why substance is eclipsing style in B.C.’s tech jobs market

By Kathleen Reid, founder and principal at Switchboard (an Earnscliffe Strategies company)

Photo: Unsplash

The phrase “through the looking glass” describes bizarre circumstances that seem to distort or contradict reality. In other words, it’s a perfect fit for B.C.’s tech jobs market at the moment.

On the one hand, the sector faces a potential gap of 150,000-plus unfilled positions over the next 10 years, according to data compiled by the BC Tech Association. On the other hand, like many other innovation ecosystems around the world, B.C.’s is currently suffering through wave after wave of layoffs. This begs the question: If tech-focused organizations are in such dire need of talent, why are they letting so much of it go?

One way to explain this paradox is to look at the recent layoffs as a jobs-market correction in the wake of the hiring spree that spanned 2020 and 2021. Faced with rising interest rates and dwindling venture capital, it could be that debt-burdened tech firms are holding onto proven top-tier or mission-critical talent, and doing without the rest.

Based on community feedback, however, tech organizations themselves shoulder some of the blame for lacking the business fundamentals to support extensive recruitment. Consider a recent LinkedIn post from Sumeru Chatterjee, a Vancouver-based content marketing consultant with San Francisco-based Data.ai.

“What (job) candidates are looking for in a company is changing quickly,” the nine-year veteran of the tech sector writes. “Candidates are now asking me questions I have *never* been asked before. In interviews, they ask:

  • Q: Are you cash-flow positive?

  • Q: What is churn and NDR rate?

  • Q: What is the burn rate and runway?

  • Q: How is your equity grant valued?

  • Q: What is the employee turnover rate?

  • Q: How long has leadership been at the company?

  • Q: What does diversity look like at the exec level?

  • Q: What is your remote work policy? Do you foresee that changing?

  • Q: What are the operating values of the company? Can you share examples of those?”

Chatterjee goes on to write that job applicants no longer care about “moonshots, growth at all costs, made-up stock options, and kegs and ping pong tables.” Rather, he says, they are looking for “a strong core business, real customers, real financials, real commitment to flexibility, and real commitment to diversity.”

These views echo some of the findings of three online polls conducted by Vancouver Tech Journal in partnership with Switchboard, which, as a newly minted Earnscliffe company, now offers expanded public opinion research services. Posted in mid-December, when increasing layoffs, inflation, and interest rates were making headlines just as they are today, the first poll indicated a preference for long-term financial stability over lifestyle and career supports:

The second indicated a preference for corporate cultures that support the pandemic-induced shift away from traditional offices, while nearly 60 percent of respondents to the third poll favoured less time in the office over perks connected with the office or with co-workers.

I have to wonder how many of the poll respondents are laid-off tech workers who were once enticed by perks like kegs and ping pong tables, and who are now seeking workplace benefits that favour substance over style. Based on the poll results, there seems to be a preference for fiscal conservatism over costly perks that do little to ensure employers’ viability and sustainability.

At the same time, as Outway Socks founder and CEO Rob Fraser pointed out on Twitter, the lack of interest in team building, career spending, and advancement opportunities “presents a great opportunity for people willing to show up and work hard to get ahead.”

As someone who has built a small business from the ground up, I’m fascinated by the steps employers take to find, hire, and keep the people they need to thrive. In my experience, the first and most important step requires companies to consider their value proposition not just to customers, but also to new and existing employees. This involves more than a good salary; it’s also about flexibility, opportunities for growth, and inclusiveness.

Recognizing that flexibility and modern tech are key differentiators that deliver an edge in hiring is also key. Depending on an employee's role, tenure, and responsibilities, flexibility will take on different shapes for most companies.

Last but not least, I’ve found that organizations that clearly articulate their goals are much more successful at attracting and retaining top talent. If your company needs help with strategic communications around hiring, feel free to reach out at at [email protected]. It’s what we do!


or to participate.