Kamloops tech sector hoping TRU can help retain skilled workers

By Chad Klassen
March 15, 2017 - 6:00pm

KAMLOOPS — Many from the Kamloops tech sector are heading back home after two days at the B.C. Tech Summit in Vancouver. 

Business owners from the Interior were there hoping to find ways to retain talent here locally, a problem for many tech companies in Kamloops.

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Matt deFouw runs his company Databox out of the Kamloops Innovation Centre on the North Shore. He has 10 employees in all, and four in Kamloops. 

"Databox is a secure file-sharing system, similar to Dropbox, but it's used for enterprise. So health, medical, legal, accounting," said deFouw, who also serves as the chairman of the Kamloops Innovation Centre. 

While deFouw's company is humming along just fine, the Kamloops-born entrepreneur is short of employees here in town. The problem being that TRI here only offers a two-year computer engineering program. 

"Our biggest problem is always finding skilled labour," noted deFouw. "Right now, with the two-year program, we have people coming into the city who love TRU, they do their two years, but then they have to leave." 

"I have personal experience with that. My brother-in-law, he did his first two years at TRU, then went off to UBC to do electrical engineering." 

Many of the students who move to the Lower Mainland to finish their education often end up staying there, leaving Kamloops tech companies in the dark.

But with Tuesday's announcement by the premier, promising 1,000 more spaces at B.C. universities, TRU is hoping to expand the computer engineering program to four years plus a Masters.

"This would be a transformative announcement for our institution and our community, because all the people taking two years and all the people in our community who want to work in tech could stay here and finish their degree, and hit their Masters as well," said Vice-President of Advancement at TRU Christopher Seguin. 

"What this would do is not only keep that leadership in Kamloops, but it would help the labour demands of the growing tech sector in Kamloops grow quickly."

TRU has been in talks with the province for the last two years now about expanding the program, which could include a co-op partnership with Kamloops Innovation Centre. 

The four-year program could begin as early as September. 

"If we receive a funding announcement that's specific to our institution soon, we can start recruiting for faculty this summer," said Seguin. "And students we're now recruiting to our two-year program could complete the four years if we move quickly."

If it happens, students could stay here and help the already burgeoning tech sector grow even more. 

"There's just so many stories and cases like that, where it's people that had to leave to get that educational opportunity that they required," said deFouw. "It would allow them to stay in the community and build their businesses and build their families right here in Kamloops."

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