Innovation

B.C.’s tech sector is booming—but its workers are underpaid

A new report offers mostly good news about the province’s high-tech sector, but pay still lags comparable regions elsewhere

Vancouver’s skyline at sunset

Vancouver’s skyline at sunset. (Basic Elements/Getty)

It may still be small relative to the more established tech sectors in Ontario and Quebec, but British Columbia’s tech scene has been punching above its weight for quite a few years now.

New data from the provincial statistics agency confirms it—but it’s not like you needed a report to know this. Some of the most talked-about Canadian tech companies in recent years—think of players like HootSuite, Food.ee, RentMoola, Recon Instruments, General FusionLuvo, Real Estate Webmasters and the list goes on—originate in B.C.

PREVIOUSLY: Vancouver’s booming Gastown tech startup scene, mapped

Some background on how the data is presented in the report: despite being released earlier this week, the researchers only use data up to 2013. The researchers also distinguish between businesses that operate in tech manufacturing (such as pharmaceutical, electronics, aerospace and medical fields) and those that deliver tech services (engineering, mapping and surveying, consulting, movie production and research and development to name a few).

The full report is a useful window on to the industry. Here are the most important highlights:

1. B.C. tech workers are underpaid

Contrary to what’s happening in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, tech salaries in B.C. have not, most part, reached preposterous heights—in fact, they’re not even keeping pace with the rest of the labour force. In 2013, wages for tech workers rose just 1.7% compared to 2.8% across the rest of the province.

But don’t feel too bad for your coder friends. On average, they’re still earning a little less than double the average person at $1,390 a week versus $870 for the average B.C. worker.

Chart showing salary growth for British Columbia tech workers

The highest increase in pay was seen in the software publishing (12.4%), followed by the film industry (11.0%). Telecom workers and computer engineers saw their pay drop by 13.2% and 6.6%, respectively. However, this could be the result of “an influx of inexperienced workers at lower wage scales, given the strong growth in employment,” the report notes.

2. Tech is comparable in size to traditional industries

B.C.’s tech sector contributes around $12.5 billion to Canadian GDP, trailing three other provinces. Ontario leads at $45.8 billion, followed by Quebec ($24.9 billion) and Alberta ($17.7 billion).

However, tech generates approximately 6.5% of the province’s GDP, putting it in the same ballpark as mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction and health care.

3. Our tech industries still lag the U.S., by quite a lot

High-tech is still a bigger overall player in comparable U.S. regions. Oregon’s tech sector alone was responsible for around 23% of the state’s GDP, compared to just 6.5% in B.C. It might come as “a surprise to many who see Oregon as largely a producer of lumber,” the report notes. However, high tech giants such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard have set up shop there.

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