There is currently tremendous demand in Canada for talent in the information technology sector (commonly referred to as either IT, for “Information Technology”, or ICT, for “Information and Communications Technology”). There is no question that employers are keen to hire qualified newcomers. Immigrants already represent over 40% of the IT workforce in Canada. However, while job opportunities are plentiful, newcomers may have some difficulty finding work, due to language proficiency or unfamiliarity with Canada’s workplace culture. Fortunately, there are many programs, training opportunities, job services, and job fairs that can help qualified newcomers find employment in this industry.
Types of employers
Types of employers within the IT sector include:
- Software and app developers;
- Software service providers;
- Hardware manufacturers;
- Communications service providers;
- In-house IT departments (private and public users of all kinds); and
- Consulting firms.
Types of jobs
The types of jobs available in the IT sector are highly varied. According to the recruitment firm, Randstat, the top job titles in IT in Canada in 2020 are:
- Developer / programmer;
- IT project manager;
- Quality assurance analyst;
- Data analyst;
- IT business analyst;
- Senior software engineer;
- Network administrator; and
- Technical support specialist.
Compensation is highly variable within the IT sector. Different types of jobs, which may require different levels of education, training, skills, and/or experience, will have different rates of pay. Additionally, companies that hire IT professionals vary widely from small startups to international corporations, government and education.
The recruitment firm, Robert Half, offers a downloadable Salary Guide. with salary ranges for more than 80 tech jobs. The salary midpoint (or median national salary) for the highest-paying IT jobs listed in its guide are:
|Big data engineer||$163,250|
|Mobile applications developer||$146,500|
|Information systems security manager||$143,250|
|Data security analyst||$129,000|
|Wireless network/cloud engineer||$123,750|
|Senior web developer||$123,000|
|Site reliability engineer||$122,000|
Randstat also offers a downloadable salary guide and reports that in Canada, “The average annual [IT] salary in 2020 is $81,750… The bottom 10% of earners in the tech field make less than $55,000, whereas the top 10% of earners in tech see their salary surpass $140,000.”
See also IT World Canada for its online salary calculator.
To attract talent, many technology providers offer equity in the form of share options, along with attractive benefit packages. In major technology centres, high demand is pushing compensation ever higher.
Education and certification
Most employers in Canada expect entry-level IT professionals to have a university degree in computer science or a related field. However, because competition for talent is so great, many employers are more interested in the coding and analytic skills which an IT job candidate can demonstrate, including through certifications, and a university degree may not be required to obtain a certification. Other key strengths likely to be sought by employers are the ability to work within a team and good communication skills.
Randstat suggests that the top IT skills in Canada in 2020 are (in order):
- C# / .NET;
- C / C++; and
There is no government certification required to work in the IT sector, nor is there any regulatory and licensing body such as the College of Trades or organizations that oversee professions such as medicine, engineering, and law.
However, for some positions, employers may require job applicants to have already been certified by a software vendor or professional association. Even if not formally required, certifications are an excellent method of demonstrating proficiency in particular skills.
Randtsat has identified what it believes to be the “best IT certifications to have in 2020” in Canada (in order) as being the following:
- Cisco certified network associate (CCNA);
- Cisco certified network professional (CCNP);
- Project management professional (PMP);
- Certified information systems security professional (CISSP);
- HP AIS certifications;
- Microsoft certified solutions expert (MCSE);
- Amazon web services (AWS) certifications; and
- Certified information systems auditor (CISA).
There are no formal prerequisites for CCNA certification, for example (such as a recognized university degree.) The key is to pass the required exam, for which Cisco recommends “understanding the exam topics before taking the exam”; having “one or more years of experience implementing and administering Cisco solutions”; “knowledge of basic IP addressing”; and a “good understanding of network fundamentals.”
Need for English language proficiency
In order to find employment in the IT sector, the Government of Ontario recommends a minimum of CLB 7 English. However, many employers will accommodate those with lower English language proficiency, if a newcomer’s technical expertise is what they really need. Having others workers on the IT team who speak the same native language as the applicant may also be a key deciding factor.
Bridging, training, and employment programs
Newcomers who already have high levels of English language proficiency (CLB 7 or 8, but in some cases as low as CLB 5) and who have international training and experience in the IT field, may find bridging programs that focus on employability and hiring to be helpful. These programs offer assistance in job seeking and orientation to the Canadian workplace culture, while also providing introductions to IT employers.
For those needing to improve their IT-related, English language proficiency, there are ELT and OSLT programs offered, for which only CLB 6 may be required.
Some organizations, such as Jumpstart and NPower Canada, provide free training that focuses on the basic tech competencies needed for entry-level IT employment. Jumpstart’s “Hack Your Future Canada” program (requiring CLB 5) is specifically for refugee newcomers, while NPower Canada offers free technical and professional training, paid internships, job placement, and post-hire support (requiring CLB 7) to youth (up to age 30), including newcomers, who are experiencing barriers to pursuing post-secondary education and securing sustainable employment.
ACCES Employment, for one, offers a program specifically for newcomer women who have international training in IT. Topics covered include networking and building professional contacts; presenting with confidence; preparing and delivering presentations; finding career work-life balance; writing targeted resumes; and developing an ‘elevator pitch’. These are important skills for women to acquire, because as one CBC news story quoted one professional’s observation: ‘Often, immigrant women who come in don’t have the self-confidence or even the mindset to approach people that they don’t know at all and form that first connection.’ Why immigrant women are struggling to get work in Vancouver’s tech hub (Dec 31/19)
See programs listed after the end of this post, below or visit our Programs database for up-to-date information, selecting “IT (Information technology)” under the “Sector” filter, and filtering, as well, by geographic area, type of program, and English CLB level. Programs can also be sorted there by upcoming application deadline.
Organizations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), offering bridging, training, and employment programs in IT, include:
- ACCES Employment
- George Brown College
- Humber College
- Information and Communications Technology Council
- Jumpstart (formerly RCJP)
- JVS Toronto
- NPower Canada
- Ryerson University
- Seneca College
- Sheridan College
- Skills for Change
- Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
- Woodgreen Community Services
- York University.
Networking and mentoring
Assuming that a newcomer has a sufficient level of English proficiency and IT skills, job opportunities may be found through the extended networks of private sponsors or through networks of newcomers themselves. There is such demand for IT professionals, that word-of-mouth and personal connections have become major sources of recruitment.
There are also many regular tech meet-ups in the large urban centres, where newcomers can meet other IT professionals, often during evening hours, and learn about specific opportunities or recommended approaches. One might simply google for “tech meet-ups” or “tech events,” for example, to find upcoming events.
Some Canadian cities have developed significant clusters of fast-growing, early-stage technology companies. Keep in mind that such companies may be willing to hire newcomers with lower English language proficiency than would larger, established companies. Associated with the development of these early-stage tech company clusters has been the formation of innovation centres and hubs, which often organize events that newcomers can attend and which may be able to identify employers seeking talent. In Toronto, for example, the biggest such centre is MaRS. In Peel Region, it is the RIC Centre.
Another option for newcomers in the GTA to keep in mind is mentorship offered through many organizations, in association with TRIEC. (See our separate post on mentorship.) Among other requirement, applicants must have a minimum of CLB 6 English and at least two years of international experience in their field, and have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. There are other mentorship programs, as well, including one provided by Windmill Microlending, in association with loans of up to $15,000 that it makes to refugee and other newcomers to obtain training and credentials. A university degree is not necessarily required, as loans may be approved on the strength of the applicant’s character and the strength of a career development or learning plan.
Attending a job fair that is focused on information technology may also be worthwhile. JVS Toronto, for example, runs recruitment events specific to the IT industry, but these are not restricted to newcomers.
Employment services may be another source of good job opportunities for newcomers in the IT sector. In Toronto, JVS, ACCES Employment, and Skills for Change are among those offering programs in this sector.
Some recruitment firms specialize in the IT sector. These can be found through a Google search for each local area. Because there is so much competition for IT talent, any newcomer who can demonstrate skills in demand, would be welcomed for any interview by one of these firms.
Opportunities to learn English
In general, jobs in the IT sector are office jobs that provide ample opportunity for interaction with fellow employees. That interaction, in turn, provides built-in opportunities for newcomer employees to improve their English language skills.
Entrepreneurship and early stage technology
Some newcomers in the IT sector will inevitably be entrepreneurs, with ideas for starting their own technology-based ventures. In addition to our coverage of general considerations about starting a business in Canada, as outlined in a separate post, there are some specific opportunities in the IT sector to keep in mind.
Already mentioned above, under networking, are technology hubs such as MaRS, DMZ, and the RIC Centre in Toronto and Mississauga, whose mandates are to support early-stage tech startups.
In 2019, Jumpstart (RCJP) launched The Angels + Refugee Entrepreneurs Program in collaboration with Angel Investors Ontario. This program aims to empower and support refugee entrepreneurs. Aside from receiving help in preparing their plans and presentations, refugee newcomers are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to angel investors.
In September, 2019, the organization, Scale Without Borders launched. It aims to organize a series of events featuring “trailblazing newcomer tech entrepreneurs from around the world to share their stories of success, challenges, and advice.”
Helping refugees immigrate to Canada as skilled workers
Some sponsors may be seeking to help a family member of already-settled, refugee newcomers also come to Canada. If such a family member has IT expertise, consider an alternate admission route. Even if this person might be officially certified as a refugee, immigrating as a highly skilled worker may be much quicker.
Consider, for example, the program of the American non-profit, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB). Although this is a U.S.-based organization, it is helping skilled refugees come to Canada, as well as to Australia (but, ironically, not yet the USA, given the current political environment.) The program’s objective is to have refugees admitted as skilled workers in the “economic immigration” category, rather than under the much smaller, “refugee” classification. TBB views economic immigration as an additional solution to refugee resettlement. It believes that opening this economic pathway for eligible refugees would serve to increase the mobility options available to refugees worldwide.
In the Spring of 2019, a Kitchener, Ontario company became the first to hire a software developer through TBB. Mohammed Hakmi, who had fled the war in Syria, came to Canada, not as a convention refugee, but under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program to work for Bonfire Interactive as a skilled immigrant in a high demand occupation. (See media story links below.)