The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the start of troubles for British Columbia’s software industry.

Employment had been dropping long before the pandemic at many of the industries major players, including No. 3 MDA, No. 4 Change Healthcare Imaging, Workflow & Care Solutions and No. 5 Hootsuite, according to data collected on Business in Vancouver’s Biggest Software Companies in B.C. list (biv.com/lists).

Since 2018, three of the top five largest software companies in B.C. have posted continuous employment declines. Change Healthcare had the largest five-year employment decline amongst the top five, falling 23.2% to 500 in 2021 from 651 in 2017.

However, the pandemic didn’t guarantee employment losses for all B.C. software companies. Global Relay (No. 2) achieved 31.7% employee growth over the past year, increasing its B.C. employee base to 607 in 2021 from 362 in 2020. The declines among other large companies helped Global Relay to rise on the list from its sixth-place rank a year ago to knock MDA off its No. 2 perch.

While some of the major players within B.C.’s software industry have been struggling over the past five years, the broader industry has been growing. Before the pandemic the industry was growing steadily, with average B.C. employment rising 16.5% to 381.5 in 2020 from 327.6 in 2017.

The employment growth wasn’t only because of a few outliers at the top of the list. Before the pandemic, the median number of employees was increasing faster than the average, suggesting that smaller software companies lower on the list were growing more than larger companies higher on the list.

Despite pre-pandemic growth in the industry, COVID-19 appeared to have a bigger effect on smaller tech companies. While some of the larger firms were able to maintain employment levels through the past year, smaller firms had to make large cuts, causing the median employment among B.C.’s largest software companies to fall 14.8% to 258.5 in 2021 from 303.5 in 2020.

Bench (No. 12) had the steepest decline in employment on the list. It dropped 28.6% to 250 in 2021 from 350 in 2020. •

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