Canadian digital tech companies are discovering this nearby staffing solution

An average of over 36,000 new ICT jobs have been created in Canada in each of the five years leading up to 2017. The labour market is hungry for highly-skilled tech talent, as demonstrated by a very low unemployment rate. However, Canada’s Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), in consultation with employers across the country, continues to find “a skills gap in the ICT workforce, often resulting in a lack of candidates with the blend of skills, qualifications, and experience that employers require immediately.” Companies in Canada’s digital tech community are finding a new way to quickly respond to opportunities with highly-skilled teams, by looking to Costa Rica.

Devin Gauthier, Sandbox SoftwareThe challenge of ‘right skills, right time’ is echoed by Devin Gauthier, Business Strategist and a founding partner of Sandbox Software Solutions. “As a small business, making recent grads aware that we exist is a challenge. We are competing for talent with a lot of larger organizations — students are naturally attracted to them. In terms of retention, we haven’t had much of an issue. It’s a matter of finding the right skills at the right time to support our business’ growth.”

The conversation over the so-called ‘skills gap’ in ICT in Canada is not only about sheer numbers, but more importantly about the ability of companies to respond to opportunity at exactly the right time. And it’s not just a concern for small and growing businesses. As Gauthier explains, “I’ve also heard from my peers in large corporations or public agencies that even they have a challenge filling positions…that recruitment is a long process, and the skill set is usually not what they’re hoping for. So, now we’re extending the amount of time that we have to train and support those individuals.”

Growing a successful software services company like Sandbox is a fine balance of keeping a streamlined, cost-effective operation, while being as responsive as possible when clients come calling. “It can be difficult for us to staff up for a project in a month or two – it’s just not practical. By the time we find the right resource, it might be four to six months, and at that point, the opportunity is gone. You can’t, in good faith, take on that contract knowing that you’re not going to be able to deliver on our clients’ timelines. We won’t do that.”

“It’s a matter of finding the right skills at the right time to continue to grow our business.”

image 1When PROCOMER, Costa Rica’s trade promotion agency, approached Sandbox about meeting with Costa Rican digital tech companies through the Gateway to Costa Rica programme, the company had not had any experience in looking globally for exported services to meet their skills needs. “We most certainly have had clients who have done so in other offshore outsourcing countries, and the experience failed miserably. We’ve had to recover projects on their behalf. Offshoring has improved over the years, but there’s still a lot of risk in terms of technical solutions, because of the quality of communications, time zone differences, and expectations.”

The Gateway programme, developed with the support of Trade Facilitation Office Canada (TFO Canada), is designed to not only provide export readiness training, but also to help bridge the last mile to Canadian market connections. Sandbox’s president and its director of operations were introduced to a selection of companies visiting southern Ontario as part of the Gateway to Costa Rica programme, and their cautious approach quickly became more optimistic. “The timing was really great. When we were invited to meet Costa Rican companies, that was our first exposure, and we left that session with a lot of interest in it,” says Gauthier. “The Gateway programme invited one of our staff to go down to Costa Rica and meet some of these organizations, but we sent two additional staff because we knew that this was an option for us. So, the message we received while the Costa Rican companies were here was a positive one and an effective one.”

Going to meet potential partners in Costa Rica, after a flight of similar length as the Toronto to Vancouver route, but with less jet lag, made an impression on Gauthier in terms of the real potential for being more responsive to opportunities back home. “That opportunity was amazing, for meeting the teams and seeing how they work. To see that they operate in the same way, and treat their employees in the same fashion.” Not only did Sandbox see compatibilities in the business cultures of the IT firms they met, but that there is extensive investment in an educational infrastructure to support tech industries. “…to see that their training is at a similar level to what we would expect here for the same degree, seeing their curriculum and hearing some of the students talk built a level of confidence that certainly isn’t there with some of the offshore options around the world.”

“The message we received while the Costa Rican companies were here was a positive one and an effective one.”

Cost savings and profitability are obvious motivators for looking to Costa Rica for contracted IT services, but managing opportunity cost is perhaps just as important. “We obviously have to make a profit if we’re going to work with any outsource partner. We’re currently negotiating for two resources full-time [in Costa Rica], for what would end up being an indefinite period…it’s a team extension. When you do the math…there won’t be a significant cost savings, but the challenge is finding the right person and finding them within a reasonable amount of time.”

Ultimately, Gauthier is optimistic about Costa Rica as a positive addition to global sources of digital talent. “Costa Rica is an ever-evolving and rapidly growing tech hub. In some of their innovation parks, it’s pretty amazing who’s already down there and doing development there. They need to promote that. I’ve already recommended Costa Rica to three other companies.”

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