Every now and then I hear the buzz that the tech industry in Vancouver is really booming! I hear Facebook is going to expand its office space soon. All this is great and I’m sure recruiters, certainly some of them, would be dancing in the rain with joy spreading the news because it brings potentially more business to them. Some would be so keen on advertising Vancouver’s greatness that anyone who would try to expose the weakness in their arguments, tell the dark side of this story, would be labelled as a ‘troll’.
Without being a ‘troll’, here’s my two cents which describes the other side of this. I have lived in this city for more than a decade. I have loved Vancouver and hence made a conscious commitment to contribute to its economy. Unlike my other talented friends and former coworkers who have been forced to leave this city despite having grown up here, I stuck it out all this time and now I’ve decided to leave this town as well for good. Any company who decides to set up shop here are most welcome provided that they realize they can’t fill an office only with fresh grads. Experienced mid level talents are needed to drive good projects. Unfortunately any mid level engineer who decides to commit to this city must also be convinced that there is a long term future for them and their family here. This means, not 1.2 million luxury one bedroom condos, not studios but more affordable family housing within the city. These need not be single family homes but could be condos and townhouses too. At the very least one needs stable rental market for families. With 0.9% vacancy rates, the chance of finding a family sized apartment which is close to transit and reasonable in terms of rent (rents in Vancouver has gone off the chart, which is a whole another problem in itself) is hard. This brings me to another problematic aspect of this city – poor transit system and expensive auto insurance (which keeps on going up) and gas prices. The city needs to invest in better transit infrastructure. The third major issue is affordable child care. There has to be reasonable number of day care centres which are also affordable. Day care is one of the other crises Vancouver faces today along with its affordability issues.
These are serious issues for anyone who would want to commit to Vancouver for a long term.
A funny thing is, even though Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada today, the wage level has continued to be relatively lower than every other major city in Canada. It doesn’t make sense. Many companies exploit this environment by hiring cheap but talented workers.
Everything I’ve said above can be corroborated by doing a 2 second google search. There are tons of articles and media reports on this.
My urge to any company who are looking to open up shop here is to give serious thoughts to these problems before they commit. This means, raising wages to commensurate with the cost of living, working with the city to provide affordable family housing for families of their employees or providing subsidized employee family housing, having shuttle buses to ferry employees who live further away from the city. Having shuttle service from transit stops and sky train stations will also help. Finding a way to compensate for expensive child care or even providing child care facilities for its employees will be of great help. In California Bay Area many companies would gladly provide employees with these facilities. Why in Vancouver do we have to put up with high cost of living similar to San Francisco or New York and get paid no where near the wage level in the above cities? Why do we have to struggle with these multiple issues and make sacrifices at various levels just to commit to Vancouver? Most talented people won’t. They would just move where they are better rewarded and welcome. So if you want to hire high quality talented workers, or want to convince them to commit to Vancouver, please consider the bigger picture. If companies put pressure on the provincial government, a lot can be achieved.
I am hoping that before we rejoice on the news of another tech company looking to expand in the city, we find answers to the above questions. They are important if we want to make Vancouver more inclusive and habitable for all. It’s only then we will truly have a vibrant and diverse economy and a growing and thriving tech hub here in the city. May be that day I will be back too.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all.
Note: Some people might think that since companies won’t change their policies just because I think they should, I should stop complaining. Let me be clear. I am completely aware that the circumstances in Vancouver and the tech environment can not be radically changed by writing a blog. If that were true, world would have perhaps been a simpler place to deal with. However, nothing ever changes if we don’t raise our concerns and provide our suggestions for improvement. It is possible that there might be an open minded individual somewhere who’s reading this blog who would welcome these ideas. Maybe that changes something. It only takes one company to advertise new perks and benefits to attract top talents. Others would have to follow if they wanted to stay in competition.
Secondly, there are enough genuine reasons to complain. Radical appreciation of the value of the real state investments does not negate the cost Vancouver has had to pay in several other areas of the society. These needs to be impartially put forward, not ” Vancouver is the best place to live” song which many have been singing for years.
This post may or may not do any good. In fact I’m not too hopeful that anything would change in the short term and hence my decision to leave. However, at the very least, it might give potential companies who are looking Vancouver to expand, insight into the local conditions and what benefits and perks can be provided to attract and retain experienced talents.