Great talent is typically attracted to great work. To attract the best and brightest talent in the world, the Government needs to attract the best innovation projects and most innovative companies to anchor their operations in Canada. Ensuring our corporate tax rate remains competitive while also offering financial credits and incentives that support innovation and a strong talent pool are essential to attracting foreign companies to Canada. Moreover, attracting anchor companies in provinces that can supply talent and meet their demands will be key to long-term success. These companies need not be global headquarters to achieve this goal, as we have seen with companies like Ubisoft and EA, who respectively employ approximately half of the FTEs in the Canadian videogame industry.
To lead in innovation, we encourage the government to invest in creating and propelling forward a framework that can be applied to all policies, funding incentives, laws, and programs with the primary goal of developing the best, Canadian talent pool. This includes both 1) an immediate resolution to bring in highly skilled talent from around the world into Canada to transfer and share knowledge and skills; and 2) a longer term strategy to address digital skills gaps.
To start, current policies and legislative frameworks should be evaluated for their effectiveness and ability to meet the goal of developing the best talent pool in the short and long term. To the extent that relevant policies, practices and laws do not work to achieve this goal then they must be revised to meet current needs and ensure Canada remains competitive globally.
i. Attracting High-Skilled Talent
With almost 1,400 job vacancies expected in the next 2 years, Canada’s video game industry is facing challenges recruiting foreign workers.
While technical and creative educational programs across the country produce well-trained workers for entry level positions (98% of junior roles in the industry are filled by Canadians), there is a shortage of available talent at the intermediate, senior and expert levels in various disciplines. Programmers, data analysts, game designers, artists and art directors are in highest demand. The capacity to hire, support and train junior employees depends on a solid and experienced core team. Foreign workers can help continuously “upskill” current Canadian talent through mentoring and by importing best practices in innovation. The inability to efficiently hire experienced talent is a critical barrier to growth for Canadian studios.
There is no question that the industry prefers to hire domestically, but the dearth of available labour, combined with the unique nature of an industry that is continually innovating and continually improving on games to be exported around the globe, requires the industry to have access to the best and brightest workers from around the world. Competition for this talent is fierce, both within the video game industry and within the technology sectors more broadly.
Consequently, the ability to quickly bring in temporary foreign workers (TFWs) is extremely important to the video game industry. However, changes by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) have erected barriers that are causing significant staffing problems. Specifically, in 2011 HRSDC eliminated the federal IT Worker Program, which permitted companies to bypass obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA for seven specified categories of IT workers.
The TFW program is ill-equipped for our industry’s needs. Although changes were made, it continues to make insufficient differentiation between low-wage, low-skill streams and high-wage, high-skill streams. Program officers’ inconsistent application of the regulations and their inability to understand the particularities of the new jobs created for a new economy makes it cumbersome to administer and frustrating for companies looking to quickly advance projects. The requirement for a Transition Plan is ill-suited to companies selectively hiring top global innovators, and negates the government’s own critical role in developing the skills needed for the economy of the future. A “trusted employer” approach or a return to sectoral exemptions as existed under the IT Workers Program could greatly help a growing video game industry in Canada. Sectors such as the video game industry, which are specialized and require specific skills that are in demand globally, should not be required to obtain LMIA’s as there is a shortage of professionals in this area in Canada. Hiring high-tech workers with specialized skills is not displacing Canadians. In fact, it is adding to Canada’s talent pool and innovative brain-trust.
Short of this solution, the program could be fixed if a number of changes were made:
- NOC Codes do not accurately represent our industry or jobs
ESDC makes determinations about labour shortages based on outdated national occupation codes (NOC). The department should work with the industry to remove the requirement for NOC Codes and/or create the ability for new NOC Codes to be introduced annually to meet new and evolving roles and jobs of the future. In 2013, video game companies were consulted on the 10 different positions and job definitions with the hope that eventually new NOC Codes would be created for them. This information is already with ESDC and has been for two years now; however, the NOC codes have never been updated, which has had a negative impact on our companies in Canada.
2. Inconsistency in Service Canada Processing
Across the country, Service Canada officers process TFW applications using different interpretations of the regulations. An application in Vancouver might be approved quickly, while the exact same type of application in Toronto could be held up and/or declined for one of many reasons as determined by individual officers. If Service Canada is to be empowered to make determinations on eligibility, officers should have a thorough understanding of our industry and the particularities of technical job titles and descriptions which are continually evolving and changing based on the evolution of technology. ESAC has already offered to work with ESDC and Service Canada to hold information sessions about our industry in order to educate staff on the particularities of hiring in our industry. This would help Service Canada officers to streamline and standardize the service standards for our industry’s TFW applications.
3. Processing Times for LMIA Applications
Processing times at Service Canada offices have not noticeably improved, even with the total elimination of the low-skill stream and with a hefty application fee. There are no service standards and companies have no confidence in making a hire and expecting the LMIA to be approved in a certain time-frame. The government of Canada could introduce service standards that accompany the application fee so that companies can plan and make decisions based on a reasonable expected time-frame for processing applications.
Ideally, growth sectors paying above average wages like the video game industry should be allowed to hire TFWs without Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs), similar to the former Facilitated Processing for IT Workers Program that was discontinued in 2011.
- Transition Plans
With the introduction of the Transition Plans, applicants must now include a detailed plan on how the company will transition from hiring foreign workers to Canadians with every single LMIA application. This requirement is ill-suited to our industry which will always require access to the best talent and innovators to add to Canada’s overall productivity and resourcefulness. Ideally, the requirement for transition plans should be removed from Canada’s immigration requirements. Not only is this part of the program ill-suited to the modern innovation economy, which is global and will always need external talent, but it is also cumbersome for companies and creates unnecessary liability.
If it is impossible to remove this piece of the program than a better way forward would be to allow companies to submit one company-wide Transition Plan each year, which would encompass all of their LMIA applications and could help ease the administrative burden on companies and show government the overarching approach a company is taking to transition to a Canadian workforce. This would be beneficial for both sides and would reduce administration on the company and Service Canada officers.
5. Salary Disclosure in LMIA Advertisements
As part of the advertisement requirement for LMIA applications, ESDC requires companies to post and disclose starting salaries. In a competitive industry, this is sensitive information which can compromise a job offer through when companies are vying for highly sought after talent. Allowing companies to omit the salary disclosure portion from the ad, or allowing a generous range in salary, would help protect the competitive advantages of companies.
ii. Developing Digital Skills
In the long term, we encourage the Federal Government to lead by example and build a country that celebrates and prioritizes educational opportunities, at all levels, to support an inclusive and innovative economy. One way that the Federal government could demonstrate this commitment would be to provide cutting edge education in aboriginal communities, to create access to digital skills education opportunities. There are numerous international programs to provide inspiration of what is possible regarding the design and delivery of this type of education, and we encourage the Government to engage, learn and adopt best practices regarding skills education from K-12, and beyond. Moreover, it is also possible for the Government to re-think the manner in which it defines the education space. Increasingly, Canadians are seeking alternative venues for education opportunities like coding dojos, virtual classrooms, “open-source” learning like Khan Academy, Udacity and even classes on You Tube. To re-think education is a challenge, but the current gap in skills and talent required to innovate, and most importantly, lead demands out of the box policies, incentives and programs to help Canada play catch up to its international counter-parts. Some examples of innovative approaches to education include, The UKs Digital Schoolhouse (http://www.digitalschoolhouse.org.uk/) and the US-based Alt School (https://www.altschool.com/about). Considering ways to incent innovative companies to contribute to the education of Canadians is also important to ensure Canadians are job-ready to meet current vacancies and those careers we have yet to imagine. The Government could consider tax or financial incentives for companies that offer in-office training to students and current employees. This extends past co-op and internship opportunities, which are important but only address new employees and not the current workforce that also needs constant training to keep up to date and innovate forward. Education in companies is expensive and takes employees away from projects. There is a cost to companies to invest in the education of their workforce and the government should consider ways to encourage more employers to invest in educating their talent. For these reasons, we recommend the above and that the Government:
- Create a comprehensive national computing and digital skills strategy for Canada that includes a coordinated effort to immediately address the digital skills gap in Canada. The strategy should be holistic, reflecting industry and educational needs in Canada, and developed by a multi-stakeholder task force comprising industry leaders, policy makers and educators who establish clear objectives and milestones to put Canadians’ digital skills back on track with international competitors.
- Develop policies and programs that support and incent industry stakeholders to be active participants in digital skills education and curricula development for Canadians in K-12, post-secondary and in the workforce.
- Establish a strong working partnership with the provinces to support the introduction of computing and digital skills into elementary and secondary school curricula across Canada. The federal government can provide the resources and support required to define national objectives in relation to computer science and digital skills in a manner that ensures inclusivity, diversity and ultimately creates more opportunities for all to participate more fully in Canada’s digital economy - including teaching staff, local and provincial policy makers and students in levels K-12.