Alberta software engineers need freedom to innovate

By Benjamin Bergen, CCI President,
and Bronte Valk, CCI Alberta Manager of Government Affairs

If you’ve taken a ride on the Toronto subway system recently, you’ve probably seen an “Alberta is Calling” billboard, sponsored by the Alberta government.

The campaign asks Torontonians and Vancouverites to consider leaving their $3000/month shoebox apartments to live in a province where jobs are plentiful, homes are affordable, and the mountains are only a short drive away.

Ironically though, right now many high-skilled engineers in the tech sector are questioning whether they can even work in Alberta, and some of the Alberta’s leading software companies are looking at moving their headquarters elsewhere.

What’s causing this existential crisis in Alberta’s tech sector? Regulatory red-tape.

For the past 18 months, the Alberta Professional Engineering and Geoscientists Association (APEGA) has been using powers granted to them by provincial legislation to actively target technology companies in Alberta with legal action.

If your company uses job titles like software engineer, machine learning engineer, cloud ops engineer or data engineer, you might be getting a threatening letter from APEGA.

These job titles are now the global standard — used by some of the largest and most desirable employers in the tech industry to describe the work of employees who build their products.

This is not a trivial matter. We recently heard from one Alberta company who found that listing the same job as “developer” instead of “engineer” would result in 50% fewer job applications.

Alberta companies are competing in a global labour market, and when they post job ads, they are being threatened with legal action by a provincial regulatory body. Instead of creating jobs and driving prosperity, they’re spending time and money responding to legal threats.

Fewer job applications means less ability to select high-quality candidates for roles — ultimately stunting growth.

The UCP government has talked a lot about cutting red-tape.

Alberta tech companies can compete and thrive in the global economy, but they need to be free to compete. Being able to offer comparable job titles for comparable roles is a critical dimension of that.

The good news is there’s a new leader in town, and dozens of Alberta’s business leaders have come together to urge Premier Danielle Smith to show leadership in making Alberta a globally competitive province for talent by helping remove the unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation that has stifled tech companies.

On www.freedomtoinnovate.ca, you can read our open letter to Premier Smith, which more than 30 CEOs have signed. If you are the leader of an Alberta technology company or organization and are concerned about being unable to advertise or use the title “engineer”, you can add your name by signing our open letter.

For more information about CCI’s advocacy efforts on this issue, and our work in Alberta, email Benjamin Bergen: bbergen@canadianinnovators.org

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Council of Canadian Innovators

CCI is Canada’s 21st century business council, advocating for our country’s high-growth, innovative companies. Visit CanadianInnovators.org to learn more.