Toronto’s Tech Boom Increasing Demand for Data Skills

By BrainStation August 23, 2018
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As we’ve written about, Toronto’s tech scene is booming, despite a shortage of local talent and a widening digital skills gap. With no signs of a slow down, demand for one particular skill set is rising to the fore: data. 

“Almost every single digital job that we get requires some level of data skills,” said Andrew Carlson, Digital Talent Recruiter at Planet4iT in Toronto. “That is probably still the biggest shortage we see on a day-to-day basis; companies are looking for people who understand how to validate their work using data in order to help drive a business outcome.”

So what’s driving this search for data-savvy professionals? Here are five reasons why Toronto’s tech boom is increasing the demand for data skills. 

The City is Changing – Fast

It might have felt like Toronto’s tech transformation happened overnight, but it’s been years in the making.

During the initial burst of growth, experts say, data professionals weren’t always top-of-mind for companies looking to establish a digital presence. As those digital strategies have matured, however, the need for people who truly understand data has grown rapidly.

In fact, the same international CBRE report that found that Toronto was North America’s fastest-growing tech hub also reported an 81.7 percent growth in employment in the city for the job category that includes data professionals.

“We have noticed a large increase for a few years now in demand for data skills,” said Amanda Magnanelli, Marketing and Content Strategist for the Toronto head-hunting firm Boost Agents Inc. “Right now it’s really interesting because even design roles or UX roles are requiring an analytic approach.”

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Few companies in Toronto were necessarily prepared for the sudden shift in demand for data professionals.

“The need for those type of data roles grew pretty quickly, and it wasn’t something (recruiters) were really expecting,” Carlson said.

Demand for Data Crosses Industry Borders

Across the spectrum, companies pretty much universally want more data – and need people who can parse it.

Canada’s data analytics market is expected to generate roughly $1.8 billion annually in revenue according to a recent report from the Information and Communications Technology Council, with direct employment in the big data market expected to exceed 43,000 jobs by 2020 – making it one of the four highest-demand sectors in tech. Meanwhile, another report from the ICTC reported that 55 percent of Canada’s big data vendors are based in Ontario.

“It used to be that data science jobs were a little more niche,” Carlson said. “Now, the type of data roles we get, they’re across all lines of business, and within all depths of the organizations as well.”

Data Skills are a Priority, Even in Less Technical Roles

Although there’s an obvious need for Data Scientists, Data Architects, and Data Analysts, it’s increasingly common to find an expectation for competency with data in other roles as well.

For those working in marketing, communications, social media, journalism, or content management – essentially anyone carrying out a digital strategy – an understanding of data is increasingly becoming a necessity.

Toronto Companies are Paying a Premium for Data Skills

Overall, it’s a great time to be a data professional. Indeed recently ranked data scientist and operations consultant as the number five and six best jobs in Canada, noting that the “two positions highlight the importance of big data in the business world.”

“The bigger the role data continues to play, the more opportunity there will be for people who specialize in putting this data to use,” the report read.

Locally, Data Scientists are particularly sought-after.

“The growth factor in data science over the last four years has been almost exponential,” Carlson said. “When we started, one out of 10 data jobs were in data science – now it’s at least 50 to 60 percent.”

And there’s evidence that companies are willing to pay a premium to snag top talent. Data Analysts, for example, are paid 19 percent more than the national average, while Data Architects make $115,612 per year, 10 percent above the Canadian average.

Demand Will Be Met – One Way or the Other

Thus far, Americans and others from outside the immediate area have been some of the major benefactors of Toronto’s tech talent crunch. CBRE’s study found that Toronto was by far the leader in “Brain Gain,” which meant that more of our talent came from outside the city than any other market in the analysis.

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A LinkedIn study in 2017 found that U.S. job seekers looking for work outside their country clicked on Canadian jobs 12 percent of the time – a number that leapt to 30 percent in the tech realm. And Toronto specifically accounted for 46 percent of all clicks for Canadian tech jobs.

But the U.S. has its own data-skill crunch to worry about, with an IBM study recently finding that the demand for data professionals there is expected to grow 39 percent.

As a result, newcomers to the field will have to step in to fill the void in Toronto. Even those with no background in data can now become proficient quickly with an intensive short-term certification program or course. BrainStation, for example, offers part-time Data Science and Data Analytics courses, as well as a full-time Data Science program, designed to help people dive right into a career in data.