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Global tech slump leads to growing number of layoffs in Vancouver

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2022-08-08 Josh Grant

Tech workers in Vancouver are feeling the squeeze as the global technology industry adjusts to life in the easing pandemic and companies lay off hundreds of employees due to shifts in demand.

On Wednesday, Vancouver-based software company Unbounce said it was reducing its workforce by nearly 20 per cent, cutting 47 jobs. Two days later, local online furniture retailer Article announced it was letting go of 217 staff.

"This is not your fault, this is my fault," Article CEO and founder Aamir Baig said in a note to staff on the company's website.

"We anticipated the trend to online purchasing would be sustained. That did not happen, and it has since returned to pre-COVID trends."

Elizabeth Brunet, who has worked in the tech sector for almost 10 years, was one of the remote workers recently laid off by Unbounce. She says it's an unfortunate situation but not entirely unexpected.

Brunet says during the first two years of COVID-19 there were major shifts in tech that saw people change jobs and move to working remotely.

Faced with lockdowns and public health measures, some companies had to shut down operations and shed salaries — but others saw big booms, Brunet said.

Businesses such as Shopify and Zoom were able to cater to people who were stuck at home, giving them the chance to shop online or connect with family and friends over the internet.

But now things are changing again, Brunet said. While some businesses have been able to sustain their success, those who bet big on e-commerce say they aren't seeing the kind of continued traffic and growth the industry predicted during the pandemic.

"It's almost like the pendulum shifted the other way and now the industry's sort of regulating," Brunet said in an interview.

On July 26, Shopify was one of the first big Canadian tech companies to announce a round of layoffs. 10 per cent of staff — around 1,000 workers — were let go.

Still, B.C. NDP jobs minister Ravi Kahlon insists Vancouver's tech industry is in good shape overall.

"Some companies lay off some workers, that's actually been a trend across the world that we've seen," Kahlon told CBC. "But we also know there's a lot of mid-size and smaller companies that are quickly swallowing up that talent."

"The demand for tech workers is high in Vancouver," said Kahlon. "Last year alone we had 14 companies valued over a billion dollars."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Ravi Kahlon, B.C.'s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, says while tech companies across the globe are laying off employees he expects workers in the industry to still be in demand in Vancouver. © Mike McArthur/CBC Ravi Kahlon, B.C.'s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, says while tech companies across the globe are laying off employees he expects workers in the industry to still be in demand in Vancouver.

Pros and cons

Brunet says working in tech has both up sides and down sides and most people are well aware of the risks.

She said it's great to be able to work from home and be part of fun, innovative businesses — but you're always aware there's a possibility the company might have to downsize or change direction according to market trends.

She says laying off employees was likely a difficult decision for leadership teams to make, but she's not taking it personally.

"Ultimately, it's just understanding that the business is adapting to the market and this is what the business needs to do," she said. "People's strategies have changed, the way people are buying has changed and the way people are working has changed."

Brunet says she's been humbled by the support among tech workers, including some who were also recently laid off and others who have reached out to share potential new opportunities.

She's optimistic she'll land on her feet and says she's looking forward to "finding the next adventure."

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