More layoffs ahead for Canadian tech sector, Elevate conference speakers warn

the Raise The tech conference made its return to Toronto this week with a lively spectacle: closing several blocks of the Esplanade neighborhood for a block party featuring performances by artists like rapper Haviah Mighty and scheduling more than 350 speakers, including tennis star Venus Williams, to grace his three spots by the time he’s done Thursday night.

But the annual festival’s comeback after a two-year pandemic hiatus comes at a less-than-great time for the industry. A plethora of startups and tech giants as prominent as Netflix, Shopify Y Simple Riches they have cut their workforce as the sector grapples with waning investor exuberance and a potential recession.

That meant how to navigate economic headwinds, and predictions about how long they’ll last, were hot topics on the Elevate stages.


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“I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom yet,” “Dragons’ Den” star Michele Romanow said in a Wednesday session on the main stage called “leading through uncertainty.”

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“Technology has seen the first kind of bump in the road and it could get much worse.”

His e-commerce investment firm, Clearco, has not been immune to the industry’s woes. He laid off 60 employees last month when he gave up his international business, a month after cutting 25 percent of his workforce.

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The company anticipated a lot of international growth that no longer made sense in today’s economy and ultimately scrapped “experimental” projects, which Romanow said were “devastating.”

Since then, he has been outlining a new business plan for employees and reminding them that he cannot promise that it will work perfectly according to that plan.

“Being an entrepreneur is extremely hard work. It’s very masochistic, even when the sun is shining and when it starts to rain, and we go into cloudier economic conditions, this is a very difficult thing,” he said.

Abdullah Snobar, chief executive of the DMZ tech hub in Toronto, agreed that more cuts from more companies are coming.

“This is just the beginning,” he said, when Elevate kicked off Tuesday. “Not to create this exaggerated scare narrative, but I’m sure you’re going to see a lot more layoffs.”

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Labor data aggregator Layoffs.fyi counts 630 startups around the world that have laid off 80,902 employees this year alone. Some 1,193 startups have laid off 176,874 workers since the pandemic began.

Workers who see and are affected by these cuts are now becoming familiar with the fact that “the world will not be like it used to be,” when companies hired “ridiculous” numbers of staff in a short period of time, Snobar said.

But these workers are still needed.

A 2019 report from the Information and Communications Technology Council, a nonprofit organization that provides advice on employment policy, predicted that the demand for talent with digital skills in Canada would reach 193,000 by 2022 and more than 305 000 by 2023.

A 2020 addendum explaining COVID-19 forecast demand to drop by nearly 24 percent and said that under new baseline scenarios, the digital economy is expected to see demand for 147,000 workers by 2022, with total employment reaching almost two million.

Banks, insurance companies and even retailers are embarking on hiring as they dig deeper into artificial intelligence, apps and other software to advance their operations and tackle labor shortages.


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“I don’t think you’re looking at a Gotham City story, like the clouds have come in and we have to be very careful and everyone is hiding for a little while,” Snobar said. “We’re going to get through this.”

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Lisa Zarzeczny, CEO and co-founder of Elevate, agrees. It’s part of why it was intentional to hire speakers who were willing to talk about the harsh realities facing technology and share advice on how to move forward.

“We don’t want to overlook it,” he said. “We believe that there is an opportunity to learn, so at all of our stages, we are asking some tough questions.”

In addition to Romanow’s session, Elevate had scheduled Wealthsimple founder Mike Katchen and Properly CEO Anshul Ruparell to explore how to grow a business amid headwinds, and the CEO of Rangle.io , Nick Van Weerdenburg, led a talk called “Hedgehogging and outfoxing: The psychology of harnessing uncertainty. ”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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