The Entertainment Software Association of Canada  (ESAC) and the Information Technology Association of Canada  (ITAC) have unveiled a white paper  which outlines the crucial necessity of global workers in Canada’s Information & Communications Technology (ICT) and digital media industries. The paper details recommended actions and also calls on the federal government to put in place measures to help highly-skilled and well-paying industries access critical competences from abroad that will help fuel growth, employment and drive innovation here in Canada.
“Skilled talent is the heart of knowledge-intensive and creative sectors like Canada’s video game industry,” said Jayson Hilchie, President and CEO of ESAC. “Without timely access to the right talent and leadership, projects can be delayed and growth opportunities lost. Canada produces some of the world’s greatest games that are massive global success stories, but our industry’s leadership position is at risk unless we have the right teams in place, with the right expertise, at the right time,” he added.
The Canadian video game industry is experiencing tremendous success and growth, employing 16,500 full time employees in 2013, up 5% since 2011. This growth has often outstripped the Canadian availability of intermediate- to senior-level talent and companies depend on global workers to fill the gaps. An average employee in the Canadian video game industry is 31 years old and makes $72,500/year. The unemployment rate in the ICT and digital media industries hovers between 2% and 3%, which is statistically considered full employment.
“Hiring locally is cheaper, faster and much easier than relocating workers and their families from abroad, usually at a premium cost,” explained Hilchie. “The notion that high-skill, high-wage companies like those in the video game industry are taking jobs away from Canadians is incorrect. We call on the government to make it easier to bring in high-skilled talent to fill critical gaps in recruitment,” urged Hilchie.
Some of the white paper’s recommendations include restoring and modernizing the federal IT Workers Program, maintaining flexibility with the Intra-company Transferee program, offering predictability through clear guidelines and timelines for service standards, LMO applications/renewals and work permits, and providing more accurate labour market data by revising NOC codes to reflect new industry occupations. Other recommendations focus on streamlining the advertising requirements and making the recruitment process less onerous for trusted companies.
Training and hiring local talent remains a priority for the Canadian industry. There is an explosion of interest in video game-related post-secondary training with 64 programs across 54 colleges and universities providing courses directly related to developing video games. There are also an additional 26 computer science degrees across Canada that can lead to employment in the video game industry. These programs will train the next generation of junior-level talent which will continue to fuel our growth. However, without being able to properly staff intermediate- and senior-level talent, there becomes less of a demand for junior level talent that will support those more experienced leaders.
Canadian video game studios take part in a myriad of initiatives that serve to develop the skills and abilities of their employees. Studios frequently serve as consultants and instructors at local universities and colleges where they assist in the development of curriculums to help aspiring video game professionals successfully transition into the workforce. Internships and co-ops are common in the industry and provide further opportunities for skills development through mentorships and in-house training programs. The industry also places heavy emphasis on keeping its employees on the cutting edge with conferences and continuing education programs focused on a variety of specializations such as video game programming, art and business.
“Shaping the workforce of tomorrow requires a holistic approach,” says Hilchie. “The skills required to work in many areas of the video game industry can’t be acquired with a short-term retraining program, and relevant experience is hard to come by. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills – including computer coding skills – need to be developed by students at an earlier age in order to prepare them for the job opportunities of the future,” adds Hilchie. The solution also involves attracting more women into the technology industries; in 2012, women comprised just 16% of the overall video game workforce.