Truro’s NSCC biggest source of employees for Bedford IT firm

Nova Scotia’s IT sector “screaming for talent”


Published on February 28, 2017

Jessie Colborne, a Grade 11 student at CEC and Sebastien Martell, a Grade 11 student at North Colchester, talk with Mike Johnston, CEO of Red Space, an IT firm in Bedford, after Johnston’s presentation to the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce Feb. 23.

©Jonathan Riley

TRURO, N.S. – Young people who graduate from Information Technology programs like those at Truro’s Nova Scotia Community College should have no problem getting a job.

[Editor's note: an earlier version of this article contained an incorrect dollar amount for the annual business between Red Space and IBM. March 2, 2017]

That was the message from Michael Johnston, originally from Truro, now CEO of Red Space, an IT business in Bedford with 150 employees doing the coolest most cutting edge projects. Johnston’s clients include major TV and entertainment networks like Sony, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, Bravo, even CBC.

Oh and he also does about $4 to 5 million worth of business with IBM every year.

Johnston was speaking at the Truro NSCC at the invitation of the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 23.

He told the room of business people, educators and students that IT grads are in demand not just in IT businesses but almost every industry needs people who can program, manage databases or otherwise look after a company’s computing applications.

“It’s a war for talent,” said Johnston. “We are screaming for talent. There is an industry shortage for programmers. I am constantly short about five to ten people,” he said.

To make his company more attractive he has outfitted the Red Space offices in the Sunnyside Mall with a gym and showers, a sauna, a fireplace lounge, beanbag chairs, game consoles, free coffee and tea, free snacks.

“We’ve built a Google-like work space in Nova Scotia,” says Johnston. “It’s worth it. If I spend $10,000 on gym equipment, that’s equal to one head hunter’s fee, so if I attract one hire that way, it’s worth it.”

Johnston says the average age of his employees is under 30 and the average salary is “North of 60k”. Half his employees have university backgrounds and half have a college education.

He says people coming out of Truro’s School of IT are immediately employable.

“The NSCC in Truro is our single greatest source of talent,” said Johnston. “The colleges have a mandate to graduate employable people. I sit on a round table advising the academic chair on industry trends; about what employers are looking for; and the School of IT has been immediately responsive in ways the undergraduate universities aren’t.”

Mike Johnston, originally from Truro, CEO of Red Space, an IT firm in Bedford, talks with an instructor and students from the School of IT at the Nova Scotia Community College in Truro Feb. 23 about job opportunities.

©Jonathan Riley

At the Truro NSCC, 30 students take Information Technology every year, 30 take Game Development, and 20 take Digital Animation. The game development and animation programs are only offered at the Truro NSCC.

“All of the students who want to be employed will find jobs,” says Karen Gillespie, the academic chair of the School of IT at NSCC’s Truro campus. “I don’t know how many Nova Scotians are aware that the digital industry is a $1.5 billion dollar industry in this province.”

Ashley Hasler knows. The Thorburn student will be graduating from the School of IT at NSCC Truro this April and hopes she can land an IT job in Nova Scotia.

“I’ve known about Red Space for a while,” she said. “They’re the reason I got started in the program. A friend of a friend works for them and I only hear good things.”

Jessie Colborne, a Grade 11 student at CEC, came to the talk to learn about the opportunities in digital animation.

She is enrolled in the arts program at CEC and loves the self-expression that comes with drawing.

“When I discovered digital drawing on a tablet I knew instantly I loved it,” said Colborne.

She is interested in studying digital animation at NSCC and Johnston’s talk convinced her it’s a good idea.

Sebastien Martell, a Grade 11 student at North Colchester High School, also attended the talk hoping for some inspiration as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. These days he is considering aviation, either flying or building planes, or a career in IT.

“I was really happy to hear about the digital industry here, to hear it’s growing, to hear there are jobs, lots of good jobs here in Nova Scotia,” said Martell.

Jessie Colborne, a Grade 11 student at CEC and Sebastien Martell, a Grade 11 student at North Colchester, talk with Mike Johnston, CEO of Red Space, an IT firm in Bedford, after Johnston’s presentation to the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce Feb. 23.

©Jonathan Riley

BRINGING EXPERIENCE HOME

Michel Johnston would like to grow his Bedford IT company more but the challenge right now is finding enough senior developers to lead his project teams.

“There is a perception that there isn’t a lot going on here in Nova Scotia, so it is hard to attract senior people back. They want to come home but they’re worried. In Toronto there are dozens of places they could move around to but if they take a job with Red Space and it doesn’t work out, they think they don’t have any options here,” said Johnston.

jonathan.riley@tc.tc