When Chaminda Somathilaka received a job offer in Alberta, he was simultaneously thrilled and uncertain. Moving his family out of Sri Lanka was a big decision, one that weighed heavily on his mind. He considered their health, safety and, most importantly, their ability to play ping pong at a high level.
“One of my sons is so good at table tennis — he was number one (boys under-10) in Sri Lanka when we left, so I was a bit worried about him. I didn’t know if he would have enough support to keep playing here,” he says. “But the biggest concerns were education and health, and it’s all free here, so it made sense.”
As the vice president of strategy and innovation with Edmonton Global, the economic development organization of the greater capital region, it’s Riya Ganguly’s job to foster opportunities, particularly for tech workers like Somathilaka. Working with businesses and the region’s seven post-secondary institutions, she bridges the entrepreneurial and academic worlds, helping establish Edmonton as a city to watch and helping skilled workers like Somathilaka recognize Edmonton as a place to call home.
“For a very, very long time, the world really wasn’t aware of who Edmonton was and the opportunities that were here,” Ganguly says. “But that’s changed. The Edmonton region’s economy is growing. It’s fuelling the expansion of regional companies and creating high-quality jobs in areas like tech, life sciences and agriculture. It’s a really exciting time to be here.”
As a former non-Edmontonian, Ganguly is acutely aware of all the city has to offer, particularly for young, educated professionals looking for the right spot to settle down. After studying and working across the country in cities from Hamilton to Vancouver, she and her husband carefully weighed their options for where they wanted to raise a family. Edmonton seemed like a good choice.
“I could say this personally, there were some big considerations for us as we were looking into where we were going to go. It wasn’t just the affordability, but really the full quality of life. There’s so much to do here, and it’s especially good if you have little ones,” she says.
Now, thanks to a recently launched provincial program, other skilled professionals will have the opportunity to call Edmonton—and Alberta—home, sooner. In January 2022, the Government of Alberta announced the launch of the Accelerated Tech Pathway, an immigration fast-track program that helps tech professionals gain permanent residence through a nomination process. The Pathway is designed to expedite the permanent residence process for individuals if they have the skills needed to help Alberta’s tech industry grow.
In the program’s first three months, it saw 73 applications and issued 47 nominations for residence.
“The main reason we went down this path in Alberta is that it’s a global race right now for technology-driven talent. We want to make sure that Albertan companies are positioned for long-term success,” says Minister for Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. “The demand is such that for people with these skill sets, they’re not willing to wait months upon months upon months. It has to be fast tracked. It has to be streamlined if these companies are going to have a chance of getting these people who are in huge demand.”
According to a 2021 report from CBRE, an American real estate and investment firm, Edmonton is home to North America’s fastest growing tech sector. Between 2015- 2020, the tech sector labour force in the city grew by 53.3 per cent, beating out other Canadian hotspots in the Waterloo Region and Quebec City. The province is currently home to more than 2,800 tech companies, a number that has increased more than 200 per cent since 2012. One of those companies, Edmonton-based Silver Creek Software, knows all too well the struggle to attract and retain tech workers.
“There’s just so much demand for tech skills as a result of the pandemic. When we’re trying to attract top tech talent, all the rest of the world is trying to do it as well,” explains Ben Steem, Director of Consulting Services at Silver Creek. Thanks to the Accelerated Tech Pathway, the company has been able to bring in skilled tech workers, like Somathilaka, who came to Canada on a temporary work permit to work with Silver Creek in late 2021.
Within months of relocating to Alberta, Somathilaka was confident in his decision to seek permanent residence. Yet the road to getting it seemed long and uncertain.
“I thought of applying, but thought my chances were low of getting it. One day, Ben sent me this article about the Alberta accelerated program. I applied the following day after it was announced. In a couple of weeks, almost exactly two weeks, I got it,” he says.
Just two weeks after submitting his application, Somathilaka received nomination for permanent residence – a process that in the past, would have taken months. Although the full approval process would take months, he was thrilled. It was an exciting moment not just for him, but for Silver Creek as well.
“This program not only helps to attract top talent, it helps retain them. It also helps their families and their children. There are other places around the world where you can go and make some money, but here you can put down roots. You can see your kids here, your grandkids here,” says Steem. “It’s a win for the province, it’s a win for the employee because it offers them clarity and certainty, and it’s a win for companies like us.”
For Somathilaka, the promise of permanent residence has made a difference not only in his own life, but in the lives of his children as well. One of the first calls he made after settling in Alberta was to the Alberta Table Tennis Association.
“They were so happy to see a kid like my son. Their only concern was that without PR status for us, he couldn’t compete in nationals. So now, thanks to this program, I’m a little closer to that,” he says. “I’m hoping that we will get PR before too long so that he can represent Canada this summer.”
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Edify