The Alberta government has been on a tear recently, pursuing policies explicitly aimed at paving the way for job creation, capital attraction and streamlined services for business.
And people are starting to notice. Several weeks ago, the Globe and Mail ran an opinion piece about Alberta’s quiet bid to overhaul its industrial policy to attract more residents, venture capital and private equity.
With the Alberta is Calling campaign, the government has emphasized a low cost of living and plentiful jobs, and Canadians are hearing that message. Between July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, Alberta experienced the fastest year-over-year population growth of all provinces and territories — more than 184,000 people moved to Wildrose Country in that time.
This week, Premier Danielle Smith’s government hit another home run; removing a small but pernicious piece of red tape that has dogged employers in the province’s flourishing tech sector. With the announcement of Bill 7, the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Amendment Act, Alberta has removed onerous restrictions around the use of the term “software engineer” and its variations. Until this point, only those with PEng degrees were legally allowed to use the term in job ads, LinkedIn profiles, and other networking and recruitment areas.
Engineers enjoy a long and proud history in the province. Alberta’s resource industry would not be what it is without the expertise and entrepreneurialism of folks who sport the iron ring. But, just as the innovation economy has disrupted other jurisdictions in positive ways, the demand for data, software and content engineers to staff Alberta’s thriving tech companies demands a less restrictive approach.
And that is exactly the tack the province has taken. While recognizing that PEngs will continue to play an important role in safeguarding Albertans’ safety, the province is making room for tech companies and their employees to use credentials that are part of the global corporate lexicon.
Council of Canadian Innovators members were first out of the gate to flag this issue with an open letter to Smith about a year ago, and we’ve been working diligently on the file since. With this legislation, ministers Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish and their teams have devised a solution that’s very simple on its face — but that doesn’t mean it should fly under the radar.
It’s been said a number of times by policymakers, business types, and talking heads over the past few years, but Alberta is on the precipice of big things in terms of its innovation economy. When the province’s tech companies broke their own record for venture capital funding in Q1 of 2023, it was rightly cause for celebration. Ironically, more than 60 per cent of that capital went to Jobber, a company that was being legally sanctioned for calling their employees software engineers, in a case that’s still before the courts. Tech CEOs talked of leaving the province over the issue.
Fortunately, Bill 7 aims to solve these issues, so that homegrown Alberta companies can keep driving growth here in Alberta.
This underscores two important realities. First, is the fact that skilled talent is the jet fuel that powers the wider tech economy.
Just as importantly, this story highlights the fact that innovators and government leaders can partner to create flexible solutions that adapt to market realities to drive toward sustained growth. This collaborative approach is what built the oilsands, and it’s the same formula that built global technology hubs in places such as San Francisco, Austin and Shenzhen.
For years, CCI has been calling on the province to reform its intellectual property framework to allow more startup entrepreneurs to control and commercialize their own ideas. We’ve also been strong advocates for made-in-Alberta tech solutions to be deployed within provincial government services. There’s every reason to be optimistic that we can make these things happen together.
Perhaps more important than the specific policy change from the government this week is the larger signal it sends. Alberta is indeed open for business.
Benjamin Bergen is president of the Council of Canadian Innovators.