Canadian tech's next challenge is public perception and general awareness

More than 50 percent of Canadians lack knowledge about what is meant by the term "tech sector" - and that's a problem, says Kathleen Reid and Megan Shay.

By Kathleen Reid and Megan Shay

Centre Stage during day one of Collision 2023 at Enercare Centre in Toronto. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Collision via Sportsfile.

A few weeks ago, Canadian tech took centre stage at Collision conference, reminding us of the micro-communities within our nation's tech ecosystem. These global gatherings are a rare chance to come together as one tech and innovation community. As communications leaders, we’re celebrating more than innovation after an inspirational week; we’re also acknowledging the transformative power of a strong narrative — something we know is a true game-changer in driving awareness, growth, and changing perceptions.

At the conference, we chatted with many colleagues, friends, and clients about the newly released Earnscliffe Strategies study that uncovered an alarming fact: 52 percent of Canadians lack knowledge about what is meant by the term "tech sector." This startling revelation raises a crucial question: has our insular community dialogue been at the expense of public education? A knowledge gap of this nature impedes the tech sector's economic and innovative potential, and could hamper our collective growth.

The study also shows that only 31 percent of Canadians believe the tech sector offers more solutions than problems. This, we believe, is likely due to macroeconomic market fluctuations and uncertainties around trending technology like artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency. It may also be due to the perception set out in mainstream media that tech is taking over jobs — we’re now seeing robots flip hamburgers, after all. We also know that Canadian media takes a more emotionally-leaning reporting style compared to U.S. journalists, who typically report “just the facts.”

So, as we witnessed Canada shine at Collision, we realized it's time to bridge this knowledge gap and challenge these misconceptions.

Across Canada, we have success stories from all our major tech hubs that are nurturing world-class innovation — including tech professionals and companies like Charitable Impact, DNA Stack, and General Fusion. These tales underscore Canadian tech's potential to drive economic growth, job creation, and impact.

Government support has been pivotal in fostering this growth. BetaKit reports that Toronto invests CAD $6.5 million annually for Collision conference, attracting global talent, generating economic impact, and solidifying Canada's position in the tech world.

Reflecting on these stories and investments, we wondered if the dispersed nature of Canada's tech micro-communities could be a barrier to our collective understanding of the industry across the country.

Numerous regional tech clusters, Ministries, associations, and institutions across Canada could offer an avenue to bridge the public knowledge gap about the tech sector. The challenge lies in how we collaborate to transform public indifference and misconceptions into robust support and understanding.

To start, we must abandon the classic Canadian rivalry narrative, with mindsets like "Toronto vs everyone" or "Vancouver vs Calgary." Instead, we should collectively articulate the strength and potential of the Canadian tech sector.

Our personal journeys as industry contacts who work in Vancouver and Toronto respectively have opened our eyes to the value of collaboration. Many years ago, and while at competing consulting firms, we quickly realized the benefits of believing that there is room for everyone to succeed. By sharing perspectives, relationships, and lessons, we found that collaboration, not competition, is a true game-changer for growth. We now work at the same company — a testament to the potential of Canada's tight-knit tech community.

The Earnscliffe Strategies study findings should serve as a wake-up call for Canada's tech sector. Despite the knowledge gap and prevailing misconceptions, significant public enthusiasm for tech sector growth exists. A remarkable 72 percent of Canadians strongly wish to see the industry expand, indicating a pool of untapped support and potential.

The opportunity is ours to seize. To bridge the perception gap and unveil our sector's true potential, we need to engage with the public, dispel misconceptions, and illustrate how technology can be a positive force for change using plain, jargon-free, and inclusive language. This could foster confidence and support for our industry.

It is time for Canada’s tech community to come together to champion stories, raise its profile, and have meaningful conversations on how tech will play a role in our day-to-day lives. Together, we can unite to make it happen, and inspire the next generation of talent.

Kathleen Reid, founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations, along with Megan Shay, principal and communications practice lead at Earnscliffe, have devoted their careers to exploring and advancing Canada's tech and innovation ecosystem.

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