As the N.L. tech industry waits for the next Verafin, companies hope to fill 5,000 jobs

Jacqueline Lee, TechNL chair, says she hopes the tech industry will convince more young people to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Jacqueline Lee/CBC - image credit)
Jacqueline Lee, TechNL chair, says she hopes the tech industry will convince more young people to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Jacqueline Lee/CBC - image credit)
Jacqueline Lee/CBC
Jacqueline Lee/CBC

TechNL members hope Newfoundland and Labrador's growing tech industry will keep more young people closer to home — and provide an answer to the province's economic woes.

On Tuesday, the industry organization kicked off its annual Innovation Week in St. John's, and organizers told CBC News attendance was more than double last year's event.

Jacqueline Lee, TechNL chair, said the industry is growing — fast. Lee said she hopes the jobs generated by companies in the industry will help keep more young people in the province.

"I love Newfoundland and Labrador. I had to move away when I graduated. I hope my son and my children don't choose that for themselves," she said.

According to TechNL, the province's tech industry is worth $1.6 billion and employs about 4,000 residents.

"I think it's what's going to turn our our economy around in Newfoundland and it's going to be what helps us succeed," Lee said.

Demand for workers

As the industry grows, Lee said, companies will need to fill 5,000 jobs over the next few years. Lee said TechNL is taking a three-pronged approach to recruitment by appealing to students, luring people who have left the province back home and making immigration easier.

She said the organization also wants to bring more women into the male-dominated industry.

"We've only got about 25 per cent women participation and we need to do better," she said.

Mark Cumby/CBC
Mark Cumby/CBC

Susan Kelly, TechNL's high school talent lead, said she's trying to raise awareness of jobs in the industry for young people.

"A lot of our students have no idea," she said. "I think it's because software companies tend to be a little bit less visible."

Kelly said while most of the companies are located in the St. John's area or on Newfoundland's west coast, the advent of remote work has created more opportunities in rural communities too.

The next Verafin?

Tuesday's event began with a keynote presentation by Jamie King, CEO of Verafin, the multibillion-dollar crowning jewel of the Newfoundland and Labrador tech industry.

King, along with partners Brandan Brothers and Raymond Pretty, started the company through the Genesis Lab, a startup incubator at Memorial University. In 2020, Nasdaq bought the company, which creates cybersecurity software, for $2.75 billion.

The story of Verafin is famous in the Newfoundland and Labrador tech industry, and the government, the university and industry leaders have all put money toward finding more success stories.

Earlier this year, Memorial University announced a technology education hub will take up the fifth floor of its new science building. The university, along with the provincial and federal governments, are splitting the cost of the $2-million hub.

Mark Cumby/CBC
Mark Cumby/CBC

"There are more and more tech companies and it continues to grow," said TechNL CEO Florian Villaumé.

He said some of the entrepreneurs behind those companies are, like the founders of Verafin, working through the Genesis Lab.

Despite the growth in the technology industry, Villaumé said he doesn't see a shift away from other industries, like the oil and gas sector.

"There are lots of thriving industries. Oil and gas is one, mining is another one and the tech sector is another one. So I would not say there is a shift, but there is more interest in the tech sector."

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