Bridging the gap – Skills vs. needs

By Lori Mathison
Dec 13, 2017
Photo credit: monsitj/Thinkstock

CPAs in BC have consistently ranked the ability to attract and retain skilled talent as the greatest challenge to business success in this province. And it is with good reason. Over the past five years, BC has seen unprecedented job growth, especially in burgeoning sectors like tech; in fact, the pace of growth in the tech sector is so fast that labour demand has outstripped supply, making it difficult for tech companies to attract and recruit skilled talent. BC Tech estimated that our tech industry will need to fill approximately 35,000 positions by 2021. And often, graduates or newcomers do not come into the workforce with the necessary skills. 

Two CFOs working in the tech sector discussed the issue of labour skills mismatch in a panel event at the CPABC Fall Pacific Summit. Jacqueline Winter, CPA, CMA, the CFO of Capcom Game Studio Vancouver Inc. noted that although her company is made up of staff highly specialized in R&D, particularly software engineers, Capcom is competing for talent with companies in outside of industry as a result of how tech is evolving. In addition to dealing with intense competition for talent, Richard Cheung, CPA, CA, CFO of TIO Networks (a local tech firm recently acquired by PayPal) noted at the panel that many candidates are missing essential soft skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills, as well as critical thinking.

The issue of labour skills mismatch impacts our province’s overall economy and productivity. According to a Conference Board of Canada report, this issue costs the provincial government billions of dollars in foregone GDP and millions in tax revenue. And the disconnect between labour skills and employer needs can have a huge impact on business productivity. Cheung estimated that if TIO Networks had more skilled labour it would be growing at a faster pace. 

Almost 60% of CPAs who responded in the recent CPABC Business Outlook Survey indicated that increased active partnership among government, post-secondary institutions, and industry will help address the labour skills gap. Some efforts to help better prepare students for work are already being driven by both schools and industry. Increasingly, Cheung noted, professors are reaching out to his company for feedback on course curriculum. And Winter added that her company is reaching out to the schools to get to the incoming talent pool, sending staff to different institutions to teach seminars or to share their experiences working in the industry.

In addition to incorporating industry skills requirements into academic curricula, both Winter and Cheung agreed that post-secondary institutions need to put more value on soft skills training, particularly those noted above. Work-integrated learning opportunities are essential for individuals to gain these skills while in school. Approximately 44% of CPA respondents to the Business Outlook Survey said they support adding mandatory work-integrated learning to post-secondary education as part of the labour skills gap solution.

If BC truly intends to expand its tech sector and be globally competitive in the short and long-term, action needs to be taken immediately. It is critical for us to assess our labour skills needs and for industry to work collaboratively with post-secondary institutions and the government to groom and prepare future generations for the work of tomorrow. 

Lori Mathison, FCPA, FCGA, LLB is the president and Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC).