Jobs in demand: There’s a growing need for tech workers in Ontario

COVID-19 has put pressure on the tech sector, but many grads are lured by higher salaries south of the border


The technology industry has been growing quickly in Canada for years, and 2020 was no exception. 

A 2019 report by CompTIA found that since 2011, net tech employment in Canada increased by an estimated 282,000 net new jobs. Net tech employment was also up 3.6 per cent in 2019 over the previous year.

When COVID-19 hit, while employment levels across the country decreased by 15 per cent from February to April, they only decreased by 4.2 per cent for tech workers. By May, employment levels were still down by 13.2 per cent – except for the tech industry, which had already rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, according to Statistics Canada Labour Force Surveys. 

Job trend analysts credit that rebound to continued demand as many companies spanning many fields quickly pivoted to working from home and online-focused business models.

Travis O’Rourke, president of recruitment company Hays Canada, believes many of those shifts will be permanent. 

“The pandemic has given a lot of organizations time to pause and reflect on how they build or rebuild their business. Automation of tasks and the utilization of artificial intelligence are on the top of every CEO’s list,” he says. “Of course, you need people to design, maintain and support them.”

Why become a tech worker?

As the tech industry grows, so does the career paths within it. Depending on the work you want to do, you could become a computer programmer, a software or web developer, a tech support representative, systems analyst, game developer and more. A major perk of the industry is the room to move within it.

Nancy Mbuku, an information technology support worker at Hobart Canada, originally spent a year as a junior programmer right out of her programming analyst program at George Brown College. “It really wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” she says. “In school, you create programs and you make websites, but in the real world, you’re basically just updating what’s already there.” 

As one of two IT support workers at Hobart, a normal day involves a lot of troubleshooting password issues, computer set-up, server concerns and more. 

“I like it much better because you fix something, the client is happy, you’re happy and it’s done right there and then,” she says. 

Compared with working as a programmer, Mbuku says there is a lot more demand for her skill set. 

“I often got emails asking me if I’m looking for a job before, but now I get at least an email a day, if not two. Recruiters are really searching for people who can do support from home.”

Versatility and mobility are becoming more important. 

Meg Blair, head of HR for MindBeacon, a Canadian platform that connects mental health professionals with clients, is constantly recruiting web developers and software engineers at all levels of experience. The way the company attracts talent is by highlighting the opportunities for fluidity within roles. 

“We are designing things that are new, we are not just perfecting one product, so people have the ability to move between teams,” she says. “If they have an interest in front end, and then back end, they can make those moves.”

While some jobs allow for a steady nine-to-five slot, others are a better fit for younger or newer workers looking for more flexible schedules.

What are the drawbacks?

One challenge O’Rourke has seen for Canada at large is what he calls the “great Canadian brain drain.”

“A high proportion of graduates, both international students and local students, relocate to the U.S.,” he says. “They do that because the pay is significantly greater in the U.S.”

Prospective employees can pick from a wide selection of jobs at big international tech brands. “It’s a massive, massive skill gap in Canada,” he notes. 

Mbuku also says the Canadian tech sector is lacking in diversity. “I realized working with programmers at my first job, it’s mostly men,” she says. 

A 2019 study by the Brookfield Institute found men are four times more likely than women to work tech jobs. A pay gap persists in the industry, with women earning over $7,000 less on average than male counterparts. 

The report also noted significant barriers to Black and Hispanic workers in particular, such as biases from teachers and mentors throughout education. Visible minorities also earn an overall average of $3,100 less than non-visible minority counterparts. 

How do I become a tech worker in Ontario?

Over 35 programs in Ontario colleges and universities offer a variety of paths into the tech industry. Degrees or diplomas in computer science, software engineering, computer engineering and computer programming are common paths to jobs in web development, software development, computer programming and tech support. The starting salary for many positions is around $47,000, which will average out to $60,000 to $70,000 over time. 

O’Rourke says transitioning into the tech industry is a great mid- or late- career move due to the high demand and often transferable skills from other fields. 

“Let’s say your background is in retail, and you’ve always worked in retail, well, there’s a lot of retail technology out there where your experience might prove to be valuable,” O’Rourke explains. “Having some of that experience from the sector before getting into the technology side looks really good on a resumé.”

Carolyn Levy, president of Randstad Technologies at HR and recruitment firm Randstad Canada, says soft skills are important, too. Many employers are looking for employees with the resilience, communication and problem-solving skills and would be willing to invest in training. 

“A lot of organizations that may not have offered opportunity unless you had experience are now saying, ‘No, come to us,’” she says. 

Where to study to become a tech worker

Algoma University (Sault St. Marie) Bachelor of Computer Science, $6,519.18 per year (includes fees). algomau.ca

Algonquin College (Ottawa) Computer Programming Diploma, $6,135.20 per year (includes fees), Computer Engineering Technology Advanced Diploma, $11,805.02 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $7,993.68 per year (includes fees). algonquincollege.com

Boréal College (Sudbury) Computer Sciences Diploma, $4,863.90 per year (includes fees). collegeboreal.ca

Brock University (St. Catherines) Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Computer Science or Bachelor of Science with a Major in Computer Science, $8,327.95 per year (plus fees). brocku.ca

Cambrian College (Sudbury) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,459.23 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $3,543.10 per year (includes fees). cambriancollege.ca

Canadore College (North Bay) Computer Programmer Analyst Advanced Diploma, $3954.33 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Networking Technician Diploma or Advanced Diploma, $3,954.33 per year (includes fees). canadorecollege.ca

Carleton University (Ottawa) Bachelor of Computer Science (Honours), $10,330.57 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Systems Engineering, $11.806.57 per year (includes fees), carleton.ca

Centennial College (Toronto) Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $4,250.39 per year (includes fees), Software Engineering Technician Diploma, $3,592.89 per year (includes fees). centennialcollege.ca

Confederation College (Thunder Bay) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,739 per year (includes fees). confederationcollege.ca

Durham College (Oshawa), Computer Programming Diploma, $2,345.34 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician, $2,345.34 per year (includes fees). durhamcollege.ca

Fanshawe College (London), Computer Systems Technology Diploma, $4,739.86 per year (includes fees). fanshawec.ca

Fleming College (Peterborough) Computer Engineering Technology Advanced Diploma or Computer Engineering Technician Diploma, $4,033.06 per year (includes fees). flemingcollege.ca

George Brown College (Toronto) Computer Programming and Analysis Advanced Diploma, $3,956 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician, $3,957 per year (includes fees). georgebrown.ca

Georgian College (Barrie), Computer Programming Diploma, $4,410 per year (includes fees), Computer Programming Analyst Diploma, $4,179.80 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $4,115.52 per year (includes fees). georgiancollege.ca

Humber College (Toronto) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,740.64 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician, $3,755.64 per year (includes fees). humber.ca

La Cité (Ottawa) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,806.78 per year (includes fees), IT Technical Support Certificate or Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $3,806.78 per year (includes fees), Computer Engineering Technology Advanced Diploma, $3819.24 per year (includes fees). collegelacite.ca 

Lakehead University (Thunder Bay) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science Co-operative Program (Honours) or Bachelor of Science with a Computer Science Major, $7,192.14 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering, $9,009.52 per year (includes fees), lakeheadu.ca

Lambton College (Sarnia) Computer Programmer Diploma, $4,319.02 per year (includes fees). lambtoncollege.ca

Laurentian University (Sudbury) Bachelor of Computer Science (Honours), $8,392.21 per year (includes fees). laurentian.ca

McMaster University (Hamilton) Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science, $7,997.74 per year (plus fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering, $10,091.40 per year (plus fees). mcmaster.ca

Mohawk College (Hamilton) Computer Systems Technology Advanced Diploma, $4,627.58 per year (includes fees). mohawkcollege.ca 

Niagara College (Niagara) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,717.53 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $3,917.53 per year (includes fees). niagaracollege.ca

Nipissing University (North Bay) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, $8,740.53 per year (includes fees). nipissingu.ca

Ontario Tech University (Oshawa) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, $6,339.90 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering (Honours), $9,390.18 per year (includes fees). ontariotechu.ca 

Queen’s University (Kingston) Bachelor of Computing (Honours), $7,548.61 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering, $13,163.47 per year (includes fees). queensu.ca

Ryerson University (Toronto) Bachelor of Science (Honours), $9,511.34 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Engineering, $11,148.94 per year (includes fees). ryerson.ca

Sault College (Sault Ste. Marie) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,833.55 per year (includes fees). saultcollege.ca

Seneca College (Toronto) Computer Programming Diploma, $3,452 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $3,690 per year (includes fees). senecacollege.ca

Sheridan College (Oakville) Computer Programming Diploma, $4,360.73 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician, $4,891.73 per year (includes fees), Software Engineering Diploma, $4,368.73 per year (includes fees). sheridancollege.ca

St. Lawrence College (Various locations) Computer Programming and Analysis Advanced Diploma, $4,142.28 per year (includes fees), Computer Systems Technician Diploma, $3,764.68 per year (includes fees). stlawrencecollege.ca

Trent University (Peterborough) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering, $7,724.50 per year (includes fees). trentu.ca

University of Guelph (Guelph) Bachelor of Computing in Computer Science (Honours) or Bachelor of Computing in Software Engineering (Honours), $9,365.88 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Engineering, $12,271.26 per year (includes fees). uoguelph.ca

University of Ottawa (Ottawa) Bachelor of Science with Specialization in Computer Science (Honours), $9,286.28 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Applied Science in Software Engineering or Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering, $10,482.50 per year (includes fees). uottawa.ca

University of Toronto (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (Honours), $6,100 (plus fees). utoronto.ca

University of Waterloo (Waterloo), Bachelor of Computer Science or Bachelor of Software Engineering, $15,900 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering, $17,100 per year (includes fees). uwaterloo.ca

Western University (London) Bachelor of Computer Science, $7,653.22 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering Science in Software Engineering or Bachelor of Engineering Science in Computer Engineering, $13,972.22 per year (includes fees). uwo.ca

University of Windsor (Windsor) Bachelor of Computer Science or Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with Honours Software Engineering Specialization, $11,540.62 per year (includes fees). uwindsor.ca

Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, $7,144.28 per year (plus fees). wlu.ca

York University (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, $9,567 per year (includes fees), Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Engineering or Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering, $12,626 per year (includes fees). yorku.ca

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