Last month, Digital Alberta surveyed its members in an effort to take the “economic pulse” of Alberta’s digital industries. We wanted to gauge the back-to-work priorities and job growth of our members over the last year, given COVID-19, as well as the impacts of recent changes to government policy.
We had responses from a broad cross section of our membership — from game development studios, VR/AR developers, and AI and machine learning specialists, to digital marketing firms.
On the job growth front, the one positive sign was that game development studios bucked the trend of other respondents and did see an increase in staffing since January 2020. This was not terribly surprising, given how resilient to the economic downturn the games industry was compared to most sectors. That said, this growth was nowhere near the levels experienced in Alberta prior to the cancellation of the industry tax incentives in the October 2019 budget. And while other provinces continue to attract game development jobs, Alberta’s game studios — in line with the respondents to our survey from other sectors — are not planning any large increases in staffing between now and the end of the year.
While there were some digital marketing companies that also saw an increase in staffing from January 2020, most either experienced no change in staffing, or a slight decrease. The hardest hit sector among our respondents, perhaps not surprisingly, was post-secondary education, which saw some dramatic staffing reductions in the last year.
With mandatory masking and other COVID measures being reintroduced last week in Alberta — including requests for employers to accommodate work-from-home where possible — our questions about managing the return to work still provide a glimpse into what employers are thinking once we finally do come through the pandemic.
The overwhelming majority of respondents indicated they would be adopting a hybrid model (mix of home and in the office) for staff but, somewhat surprisingly, greater than 1 in 10 respondents indicated they would be looking to return to the office permanently by the end of 2021. The lure of face-to-face work with colleagues, even in a hybrid model, can’t be discounted. Not only do many see the value of in-person collaboration versus virtual meetings, but for some, going into the office eliminates some of the social isolation and mental health challenges the pandemic has highlighted.
Even with a large number of respondents going to a hybrid model of work, the need for office space is still required and very few reductions are planned — at least, for those that have assessed this part of their return-to-work plans. The largest number of responses to this question were still unsure and were looking to review their office needs later.
Overall, the survey results demonstrated the general fortitude of Alberta’s digital sector — something we expected when we sent the survey out, knowing the various headwinds organizations have dealt with over the last 18 months.
We greatly appreciate the time that people took to reply to the survey — we always welcome the opportunity to hear directly from our members. Your replies helped shape key messages we used in our meetings with government leaders in recent weeks, so rest assured, your voice is being heard!