Column: Will Canada’s new tech talent strategy be a boon to entertainment?

Immigration lawyer Lorraine P. D'Alessio on how Canada's media industries could benefit from new federal initiatives.

Lorraine D'Alessio headshotLorraine P. D’Alessio 

The last few months have brought exciting news to Canada’s flourishing innovation sector, with a string of new proposals from Ottawa that aim to make it easier for technology firms to attract and secure foreign talent. Not surprisingly, Canadian tech leaders have cheered the announcements – but they’re not the only ones who should be smiling. As it turns out, the country’s entertainment industry also stands to win big from these recently announced policy changes.

The Canadian tech industry has long struggled with a shortage of skilled workers, such as software developers, architects, and programmers. When faced with a talent gap at home, many Canadian companies attempt to bring in highly qualified foreign applicants to quickly fill critical positions. Yet until recently, firms that tried to recruit from abroad had to undertake a time-consuming, overly bureaucratic immigration process that forced many firms to wait a year or more before their applicants were ever processed, let alone approved.

To help address this, during its fall economic update back in October, the Canadian government unveiled a new, multi-tiered initiative called the Global Skills Strategy. Aimed at maintaining the country’s economic competitiveness, the program proposes that Canada introduce a new Fast Track Visa and Work Permit for low-risk, high-skilled foreign talent sought out by Canadian firms. With a maximum processing time of just two weeks, the newly proposed visa is intended to eliminate red tape and give startups the agility they need to quickly recruit the best and brightest from around the world.

What does all this mean for the Canadian entertainment field? As the entertainment and media industry becomes more and more technology-intensive, and with audiences consuming huge amounts of content via mobile devices and social media, Canada’s creative players may discover there’s a big advantage to be gained from having quick, streamlined access to first-rate global tech talent.

For instance, the proposed Fast Track Visa will likely make it easier for screen-based organizations to fill positions for roles like mobile/web app developers and User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) designers – both of which are essential in helping an organization define and expand its digital presence.

The new Fast Track Visa could also apply to skilled creatives who require extensive technical training, such as animators and digital effects specialists. Canada’s video game industry looks especially poised to benefit. The sector has expanded a remarkable 24% in the past two years, and now contributes around $3 billion to national GDP. Yet its growth has also been hampered by the  inadequate framework for hiring foreign workers.

“The pressure on the Canadian labour pool for tech jobs is enormous,” says Jayson Hilchie, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, a lobby group for the country’s video game makers. “Many of the employees we need are in the intermediate-to-advanced rank in terms of skillset, meaning we can’t just hire everyone straight out of university to fill those slots. To get the people we need and sustain our growth, we need access to the global pool of foreign talent.”

While some may argue that foreign workers might take jobs from Canadian locals, tech and entertainment leaders are quick to argue that bringing in the right talent from the outside can ultimately create bigger and stronger Canadian companies overall, fostering a healthier national economy which generates more jobs for everyone.