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Toronto's tech sector growing fast but needs help to keep going, says report


TechToronto, an organization supporting the growth and development of the Toronto tech community, has released a report called “How Technology Is Changing Toronto Employment”, in collaboration with The Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs, consulting firm PWC and economic data modelling firm Emsi.
Toronto, for the purposes of the report, is defined as the Peel and York census divisions, with a population of 5.4 million people in 2015, 49% of whom are immigrants.
According to the report, “the average Torontonian doesn’t appreciate the extent to which technology has already transformed our economy. The Internet, mobile technologies, wearables, big data and machine learning have created thousands of new companies and jobs in Toronto.”
Toronto’s tech sector employs 401,000 people, according to the report, accounting for 15% of all workers, noting that the tech ecosystem has added 51,000 jobs since 2010, compared to the financial sector, which added 17,000 jobs, and manufacturing, which lost 5,000 jobs over the same period.
On the other hand, 93,000 of those jobs are held by self-employed professionals, accounting for 23% of the total tech ecosystem, a very high number compared to 8% of the finance and insurance workforce, and 4% of the manufacturing workforce who are self-employed.
The report defines the tech ecosystem as containing people who are working non-tech jobs in a tech company, people who are working tech jobs in non-tech companies, and people who are working a tech job at a tech company.
A tech job at a non-tech company would be defined as a Technical Support position at RBC (the financial sector is a huge employer of tech workers), while a non-tech job at a tech company would be defined as a Sales Representative position at a tech company.
Job growth by industry in Toronto has seen a 14.6% increase in the tech workforce from 2010-2015, compared to a 7.9% increase in the finance sector, and a 1.8% shrinkage in the manufacturing sector.
“The backbone of the technology sector in the Toronto region is its telecommunications infrastructure,” says the report. “For the entire Toronto tech ecosystem, telecommunications accounts for 7.4% of jobs.”
While it’s true that tech has seen nationwide growth from coast to coast in Canada, with the rise of incubators and accelerators and some good PR exercised by start-up culture in general, the report also asserts that the development of a strong tech ecosystem in Toronto is down to certain factors unique to the GTA.
Since 2010, there was an actual 1.1% shrinkage in the number of non-tech jobs in tech industries, while tech jobs in non-tech industries grew by 15.7%, leaving the lion’s share of growth in the sector to tech jobs in tech industries, which grew at a rate of 27.1% over that period.
Having assessed the situation, the report goes on to make several policy recommendations about how to increase the ranking of Toronto as one of the world’s preeminent tech hubs.
To attract and retain talent, it will be important to solidify the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor’s reputation for world-leading fintech and machine learning companies, as well as to introduce a fast track immigration visa to bring tech talent into Canada.
As far as education goes, enrollment and diversity needs to be increased in post-secondary STEM programs, and companies need to be incentivized to train and hire re-trained workers, rather than looking at training as merely an unproductive expense.
The report points out that from an urban infrastructure perspective, Toronto housing needs to be both better and more affordable, and that it should be easier for tech companies to partner with the right accelerator and/or incubator for their needs, which would involve introducing a standardized reporting framework for accelerators, improving on their currently ad hoc methods of reporting results and sharing data.
The regulatory environment needs to be modernized and harmonized, pointing particularly to the example implemented in the U.K. of a “regulatory sandbox” for the fintech industry in which start-ups can play without fear of stepping outside the rules before figuring out how to implement their trial versions in the actual world.
The report also makes a call to “re-distribute government funds from incumbent tech companies to scale-ups and start-ups,” and for governments to support smaller companies through the procurement process, which is typically dominated by established tech firms and consultancies.
Obviously, city governments can help, too, with the implementation of Smart City strategies, working with local tech companies to solve civic problems and improve urban quality of life.

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