Drive, accountability and trust. These are the three things that Al-Karim Khimji looks for in a new hire.
For some, that might feel unconventional. Yet for the co-founder of Calgary-based tech startup Propra, it lays for the foundation for everything that comes next.
“These are values that we wanted to build Propra around,” says Khimji, whose company, which he co-launched with Craig Adam of Skip the Dishes fame in early 2021, offers a property management SaaS for managing residents and financials.
“We often think of tech companies needing deep technology backgrounds. We think that we need people to be able to program something amazing. But what we really need are different skill sets to sit around the table.
“So, what we do at Propra is bring together those different perspectives to engage with different problems. As a result, we’ve been open to folks coming with different experiences – and we’ve seen incredible success in doing so.”
It’s a sentiment that’s shared by many in Calgary’s tech community, which continues to cut its teeth within an increasingly competitive skilled labour market.
Kylie Woods, founder and executive director of Chic Geek, says she’s similarly seeing an on-the-ground perspective to companies hiring based on values over hard skills.
“We’re even seeing shifts in the way they write their job applications,” says Woods, whose nearly decade-old company focuses on building gender diversity in technology through career-pathing, events, services and partnerships.
“Even things like number of years experience – some companies are even removing that altogether as there are so many folks pivoting. It’s not about the number of years experience. It’s about what value do you bring, and do you believe in the work we’re doing?”
Many in the local tech space believe this dimensional approach to hiring is what’s putting Calgary on the talent map. In a 2022 report from CBRE titled Scoring Tech Talent, Calgary ranked 28th among the Top 50 North American markets for the second consecutive year.
The report, which ranked markets according to their competitive advantages and appeal to both employers and tech talent employees, noted there are over 40,600 tech workers in Calgary. That included more than 7,400 tech jobs being added from 2017 to 2021.
In addition, the report ranked Calgary placed fourth in terms of tech talent concentration.
Industry experts say it’s an encouraging start in reaching the finish line of tripling Calgary’s tech sector over the next 10 years – a goal set by tech and innovation accelerator Platform Calgary.
Vanessa Gagnon, director of community at Platform Calgary, says she’s encouraged by the persistently strong demand for skilled workers from the nearly 1,000 tech-enabled companies currently in the city.
“There are so many companies that are actively hiring because they need people who can help grow the business today,” she says, pointing to IBM’s new Client Innovation Centre and RBC’s Innovation Hub as examples.
“And that’s where Calgary is lucky because we have a lot of skilled individuals, whether they’re coming from other sectors or they’re already part of the tech community. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
In fact, a 2022 report by the Information and Communications Technology Council of Canada anticipates technology employment will pace the provincial labour market in the coming years.
Titled A Resilient Recovery: Alberta’s Digital-Led Post-COVID Future, the study’s authors report that, “the province’s digital economy remained resilient and thrived” even through the pandemic. Moving forward, they singled out financial technology, health tech, clean technology and agtech as the subsectors that will likely lead employment gains in the province.
For Woods, part of the solution to growing Calgary’s tech talent pool is encouraging those already within it – specifically, women in intermediate-level positions who she says are leaving tech careers at a much faster rate than their male counterparts.
“To add a little more context to that, we saw women’s enrollment in like computer science peak in the 1980s at around 37 per cent. Today, we’re at 19 per cent,” she says.
Woods attributes high attrition numbers to women feeling underserved in supports to continue advancing their careers. In many cases, they didn’t see other women in leadership, so they cut ties instead of spinning their tires.
“So, we’ve come up with things like career pathing,” which matches mentors with mentees to provide women with real advice for navigating the tech industry.
Chic Geek also hosts several events throughout the year, including Connect Her, a women-in-tech summit earlier this year that brought together more than 250 women together for an evening of networking and learning. Woods notes more than 500 connections were made at the one-day event, which sold out in less than two weeks.
“We know that talent is the number one kind of successor to tech companies doing well,” says Woods. “And so, what we’re seeing in Calgary is some really great pockets and communities of diverse talent groups. Chic Geek is an example of one of those diverse talent networks.”
Meanwhile, Gagnon points to additional organizations that are focusing on “rescaling or upscaling” workers to meet current and future demand for skilled workers in tech. She singles out Higher Landing, a Calgary-based career counselling service that helps workers market themselves for career changes.
Gagnon also points to EDGE UP (Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project), a multi-stakeholder program launched in 2019 to retrain displaced workers from the oil and gas sector for in-demand jobs in areas such as data analytics, software development, cyber security and more.
“So, there’s a lot of activity and things going on. People are paying attention,” she says.
“It’s just about opening their eyes to the opportunities so they can start their journey into understanding what it might look like for them to be in tech. Because, again, there is no shortage of opportunities.”
Looking ahead, Khimji expects Propra will continue to experience “sustainable” growth over the coming months, leading to a need for everything from software developers to customer fulfillment. His advice to standing out to a prospective employer?
“The number one for me is to show an interest in the technology,” he says. “For me, its really about that personalized interest – and how it connects with what we’re doing.”
Gagnon adds it’s important to make those important connections.
“It’s about getting your story out. That’s why we have things like Tech Talent Tuesday, which includes a networking component in which you can meet with the person who’s on the other end of that automated resume submission,” she says.
Gagnon also points to Discover Tech, which takes place May 5 at the Platform Innovation Centre. The second annual expo and fair co-hosted by Platform Calgary and Tech West Collective will feature more than 60 startups that are hiring, as well as post-secondaries and different skill-building organizations.
“It’s career fair meets tech expo,” says Gagnon, noting the one-day event will also feature live demonstrations, panels and more.
“Attendees will be able to meet with companies who are either hiring full-time roles, internships, co-ops. Last year, we had more than 1,500 people come through the building, and we heard of folks being hired as a result.”