Addressing Labour Demand and Growth in the Creative Technology Sector
Ontario is one of Canada’s leading technology regions. The country’s most populous province, Ontario is home to a robust and diversified digital economy, propped up by a highly educated and diverse talent base. Moreover, the province’s digital economy boasts a long history of homegrown business success, coupled with a strong capacity for investment attraction —among others, these factors have earned it the title of second largest information technology (IT) cluster in North America. A core contributor to the province’s booming digital economy is creative technology. An interdisciplinary field where elements of computer science, design, art, entertainment, and social sciences converge, creative tech has gained momentum in recent years. Ontario has seen notable growth in areas including video games, immersive technology, and esports. Combined with regional advantages in creative and cultural industries, Ontario is one of Canada’s leading creative technology hubs.
This report examines strengths, opportunities, and key considerations in Ontario’s creative tech sector and labour market. With an established ability to weather the storm of the pandemic and drive resilient and high-quality labour market opportunities, the province’s creative tech sector is poised for continued success.
Core takeaways of this research include the following:
Creative technology talent demand persists despite economic headwinds. The sector continues to experience strong demand for talent in a variety of roles, some that are transdisciplinary in nature. Notably, both technical and artistic roles posted strong demand despite the pandemic, a slowing Canadian and global economy, and increased competition. Many roles require at least a high-level understanding of the underlying technology driving applications and services, as well as strong so-called “soft skills” like collaboration, critical thinking, and project management; this often necessitates workers with a blend of what are referred to as technical and human skills.
The crunch for intermediate and senior-level talent is especially acute. These employees bring crucial technical skills, irreplaceable lived experience, domain knowledge, and the ability to lead teams. These workers are also necessary for the development of the overall talent pipeline, including training junior staff and helping them progress to intermediate roles. Despite a stark need across the sector, these workers are in short supply.
The fast growth of the industry and increasing digitization across the economy creates recruitment and retention challenges for creative tech employers. Talent competition occurs across studio size and region, with large companies often acting as key attractors—prospects of higher salaries, career mobility, and brand recognition are all core variables influencing competition. Moreover, the sheer pace of the industry, coupled with increasing digitization across all sectors, presents added recruitment and retention pressures for creative tech employers. Although a cooling global economy may help battle wage inflation in the near-term, the rise of remote and hybrid work has given employees greater freedom to work for companies outside of Canada. That said, hybrid and remote work also present opportunities for Ontario employers to broaden their talent pool.
Ontario’s creative tech sector is a healthy blend of small—and often independent—studios and large multinationals. A balanced presence of small and large studios is essential to economic growth, investment attraction, diversity, and labour market resiliency. Research shows that along with other spillover effects, large companies can attract more (and senior) talent to a given region, which also benefits smaller companies that may not have the brand power or other pull factors to affect this shift themselves. Smaller companies are known for conceptualizing and developing original IP, bringing innovation and ingenuity to the marketplace. Continuing to attract large-scale investment while supporting small studios is essential to long-term stability in the sector.
Local post-secondary institutions provide high-quality programs that help learners make careers in tech, but existing educational pathways need further adaptation to meet evolving real-life labour market needs. Developing and maintaining adaptable and flexible curriculums is always a challenge for training institutions, namely in fields like technology that are subject to rapid evolution and change. Although creative tech employers work with post-secondary institutions to develop and source new grads, they also value alternative pathways of skill development, including micro-credentials and programs like work-integrated learning.
A focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) opens opportunities and broadens the talent pool, but diversity is not synonymous with inclusivity. The creative tech sector is home to employees from around the world. Moreover, current demographic trends point to a future where 40% of Canadians will be from a racialized group. However, despite a comparatively diverse talent pool, creative tech employers note significant opportunities to enhance inclusivity. Key measures include closing the gender gap, battling systemic biases, and improving participation—including in leadership positions—from underrepresented groups.
Immigration is an essential talent stream for creative technology employers. It is an especially important mechanism of sourcing senior-level talent that is in short supply. However, macroeconomic factors including housing availability and affordability in creative tech hubs like Toronto affect the sector’s ability to attract and retain international talent. Although these realities require broader policy responses and mitigation measures, increased clarity on immigration sponsorship processes and timelines for creative technology roles can support employers in securing internationally educated professionals.
Investing in Ontario creative tech pays dividends and requires a multi-faceted approach. Ontario’s creative technology sector is well positioned to succeed, but changing macroeconomic forces and unyielding competition requires an allsector approach to support its continued success. This includes targeted incentive programs and clear information about varied creative tech career pathways. This approach is key to attracting and retaining talent in the long run.
Alexandra Cutean, Faun Rice, Trevor Quan, Justin Ratcliffe, and Todd Legere. Ontario’s Next Gen Industry: Addressing Labour Demand and Growth in the Creative Technology Sector (Ottawa, ON: Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), February 2023).