Elevate conference speakers warn of more layoffs in the future for the Canadian tech sector

The Elevate tech conference is back in Toronto this week with a raucous spectacle – shutting down several blocks from the Esplanade neighborhood for a group party with performances from artists like rapper Haviah Mighty and scheduling more than 350 speakers, including tennis star Venus Williams, adorning its three venues by the time it wraps up Thursday evening.

But the re-emergence of the annual festival after a two-year hiatus from the pandemic comes in less than a great deal of time for the industry. A slew of startups and high-profile tech giants such as Netflix, Shopify and Wealthsimple have cut their workforces as the sector struggles with the investor glut and potential recession.

This meant how to weather economic headwinds — and predictions about how long they would last — were hot topics in the Elevate stages.


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“I don’t think we’re anywhere near a bottom yet,” “Dragons’ Den” star Michelle Romano said in Wednesday’s “Driving Through Uncertainty” keynote.

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

Her e-commerce investment company Clerco wasn’t immune to industry woes. It laid off 60 employees last month after it handed over its international business, a month after it slashed 25 percent of its workforce.

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The company expected a lot of international growth that no longer made sense in the current economy, and eventually cut “pilot” projects, which Romano said were “devastating.”

Since then, she has been outlining a new business plan for employees and reminding them that she can’t promise that she will go perfectly on that plan.

“Being an entrepreneur is very hard work. It is very masochistic, even when the sun is shining and so when it starts raining, and we get into more foggy economic conditions, it is very difficult,” she said.

Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ Technology Center in Toronto, agreed that more cutbacks from more companies are to come.

“This is just the beginning,” he said, as Elevate kicked off Tuesday. “Not to create this above a horror story, but I definitely think they’re going to see more layoffs.”

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The Layoffs.fyi business data aggregator includes 630 startups worldwide that have laid off 80,902 employees this year alone. About 1,193 startups have laid off 176,874 workers since the pandemic began.

Workers who witness and are affected by these cuts are now learning about the fact that “the world will never be the same,” when companies were hiring “ridiculous” numbers of employees in a short period of time, Snowbar said.

But these workers are still needed.

A 2019 report by the Information and Communications Technology Council, a nonprofit organization that advises on employment policy, predicted that demand for digitally skilled talent in Canada would reach 193,000 by 2022 and more than 305,000 by 2023.

The 2020 Supplement to COVID-19 forecast that demand will fall by approximately 24 percent, and said under new baseline scenarios, the digital economy is expected to see demand for 147,000 workers by 2022, with total employment reaching nearly two million workers. .

Banks, insurers, and even retailers are embarking on hiring as they delve into artificial intelligence and other applications and software to develop their operations and deal with labor shortages.


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

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Lisa Zarzezhny, CEO and co-founder of Elevate, agrees. It’s part of the reason she’s intent on booking speakers who were willing to talk about the harsh realities facing technology and share tips on how to move forward.

“We don’t want to cover it up,” she said. “We believe there is an opportunity to learn, and so at all of our stages, we ask some tough questions.”

On top of the Romano session, Elevate selects Wealthsimple founder Mike Kachin and appropriate CEO Anshul Ruparel to explore how to grow business amid headwinds and Rangle.io CEO Nick Van Weerdenburg leads a talk titled “Hedgehogging and outfoxing: The Psychology of Taking Advantage of Uncertainty.”

© 2022 Canadian Press

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