What High Tech Industry in Kelowna?

Kelowna’s tech industry growth stunted by shallow talent pool

There is a lot of hubris and fantasy here in the Okanagan that no amount of reality can kill. Contrasted with that is a political faction that wishes for nothing more than the status quo. In yet another example of Kelowna’s long-standing poor employment market, and bizarre claims of being a technology industry hub, high tech employment in the Okanagan is being curtailed by the mass exodus of qualified graduates to employers outside the Okanagan. This is not new news as it has been happening for years. The employment and economic development crises are now so severe that it may take a decade or more to reverse.  A recent claim that the Okanagan high-tech industry produces $1 Billion in revenue, now seems particularly preposterous.  This situation underscores the challenges facing Raghwa Gopal, as the new Director of Accelerate Okanagan.  I see that Gopal has so far won a host of community awards and contributed to a local food drive, which leaves me asking which job he is running for, and which job he holds now?


Raghwa Gopal, Director of Accelerate Okanagan


A lack of skilled programmers is hampering Kelowna’s ability to establish itself as a technology hub.

According to Barry Ward, the president of Bardel Entertainment, tech companies across the city are desperate for skilled employees, but there just aren’t enough of them to meet demand.

“Everybody’s feeling the pinch for talent,” Ward says. “You’re looking around town for someone with 5-10 years experience and they’re just not there.”

Bardel, the animation company Ward co-founded, has offices in both Kelowna and Vancouver. The company opened its Kelowna office three years ago, looking to expand out of a crowded Vancouver market.

<who> Photo credit: Bardel Entertainment </who>

Photo credit: Bardel Entertainment

Vancouver is the undisputed centre of technology in British Columbia but, according to Ward, the overcrowded market there has left an opening for another B.C. city to establish itself as a tech-industry hub.

He believes Kelowna is the perfect city to do that, but says that won’t happen “without an available talent pool” in Kelowna.

Dr. Raymon Lawrence knows that all too well.

Lawrence is an associate professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan, where computer science programs are essentially at maximum capacity.

Lawrence says the university’s computer science department is on track to graduate 30-40 students next year, but that many of the graduates will be scooped up by tech giants like Google and Microsoft.

<who> Photo credit: KelownNow </who>

Photo credit: KelownNow

“Pretty much if any grad wants a job they can get a job within three months,” Lawrence says.With so much lucrative work outside the province, and relatively few skilled workers graduating every year, Lawrence says “there’s a real problem in Kelowna.”

Both Ward and Lawrence say the solution is simple: more people trained right here in Kelowna.

Ward was one of 18 tech industry “leaders” who wrote an open letter to Premier Christy Clark earlier this month asking for more funding and support for technology-related post-secondary programs.

They asked the premier to invest $100 million to grow post-secondary programs in the province, specifically in places like Kelowna.

Early this year, Clark did announce plans to introduce computer coding to B.C. school curriculum, and in 2015 the provincial government created a $100 million venture fund to finance tech startups.

Lawrence says provincial funding aimed directly at post-secondary programs would likely be the only thing capable of spurring growth in UBCO’s computer science programs.

“Unless there’s some money provided to us, we won’t grow,” he said.