Ottawa’s Tech Edge: Lifestyle – Less manic pace a powerful lure, says recruiting expert

By Bert Hill
Ottawa Citizen – September 2000


Stop pushing salaries and stock options to lure high-tech talent to Ottawa. Try canoes. David Perry, a leading technology recruiter, says technology companies should jointly promote the less manic Ottawa lifestyle in major U.S. cities.

“In Boston, where it takes three hours to get to work, put up a big billboard beside expressways of a canoe in the solitude on a lake, with a message: Ottawa Gridlock, Call 1-800-I-want-a-life.” Mr. Perry is an owner of Perry-Martel International Inc.

In the past 12 years he has recruited 811 technology workers, including successfully wooing some senior U.S. executives to Ottawa.

In a speech prepared for delivery today to an Ottawa business group, Mr. Perry said too many companies are wasting time and effort on recruiting campaigns aimed purely at compensation.

“Exit interviews (with employees leaving for new jobs) confirm that employees are increasingly seeking lifestyle changes, rather than an exclusive focus on salary. In lifestyle, Canada leads the world.”

He said the global shortage of talent is both a threat to Ottawa and an advantage.

“If we can show corporate America that in Ottawa, our lifestyle reduces worker turn-over, we are offering very powerful inducement for a company to locate here.”

He said the cost of replacing a skilled technology worker is about twice the cost of an annual salary. With turnover rates of 25 per cent to 30 per cent in major U.S. technology centres, some companies have to completely restaff every three years.

Mr. Perry said compensation no longer has as big an appeal: Ottawa companies have closed the gap on salaries, signing bonuses and stock options.

Higher Canadian taxation continues to be an issue but changes are coming.

“Many of the top performers technology companies are seeking have already been through at least one start-up, frequently with mixed results. They are looking for something different.”

He said Canada’s lifestyle — clean, safe streets free of traffic jams, comfortable family lifestyles and natural beauty — is the real competitive edge.

Mr. Perry said the U.S. economy will create 1.6 million new technology jobs this year but half will go unfilled.

With the technology unemployment rate effectively zero, some recruiters in San Francisco are now forced to offer recruits the option of staying in their home city.

He said labour costs are rising quickly for jobs that already pay an average 200 per cent more than other jobs.

Mr. Perry said individual corporate recruiting campaigns are missing the mark, because the appeal of a particular company or its technology is no longer as important.

He said a broad-based corporate campaign based on a slogan like “Ottawa: Where Technology Lives” would promote the region’s real competitive edge.

“Imagine a permanent lifestyle recruiting drive put on by the Ottawa all-star team: Cognos, Nortel, Alcatel, JDS and so on.”

He said the message could be tailored to each U.S. city.

In Seattle, he said a major billboard campaign might feature Ottawa recruiting and lifestyle information with toll-free phone numbers.

“In Silicon Valley, how about an Ottawa High-Technology Lifestyle Challenge, with all of our top local companies flying in their employee sports teams to take on the best in the Valley.”