After doubling local workforce in two years, Ford plans more growth at Ottawa R&D centre

Inside Ford's Connection and Innovation Centre in Kanata. Photo provided

Two years after the automotive giant moved into Kanata, Ford Canada’s chief engineer says the company has doubled its headcount and intends to keep growing in the capital.

Ford Canada held an open house Thursday at its Connectivity and Innovation Centre at 700 Palladium Dr. to showcase its R&D labs, which were established in 2017 through a $337.9-million investment. Local executives took guests through Ford’s garages where vehicles go-through in-house testing as well as the company’s software labs where developers run simulations and collect data.

Speaking to OBJ after the tours, chief engineer Zoltan Racz noted that the 2020 Ford Explorer on display Thursday featured the latest generation of the automaker’s SYNC 3 infotainment system, the first time the platform has ever been developed in-house since it was first launched more than a decade ago.

The SYNC platform itself marks a significant shift for Ford from traditional automaker to veritable tech firm. To help make the transition to developing connected vehicle tech in-house, Ford struck a deal with BlackBerry in 2017 to transfer 300 BlackBerry employees across its Ottawa, Mississauga and Waterloo operations to Ford – a move that’s since become the subject of a potential class action lawsuit. BlackBerry’s QNX division develops embedded software that acts as the foundation for Ford’s infotainment systems.

The SYNC 3 infotainment system inside the 2020 Ford Explorer. Photo provided

Since March 2017, Ford’s presence in Ottawa has doubled from 150 employees to roughly 300 today. While Racz did not provide specific hiring goals for the coming years, Ford has pre-leased 40,000 square feet of space in Cominar’s new build at 800 Palladium Dr., which the developer said previously would give the company room for another 300 employees.

Racz has spent his entire tech career in Ottawa, including more than a dozen years with BlackBerry before joining Ford two years ago. He says Ford’s R&D centre in Ottawa benefits from the city’s talent pool, which has depth in media specialists, embedded software developers and telecom workers.

Despite Ottawa having the resources Ford needs to grow, Racz notes that hiring has been a challenge.

“It's not trivial to find talent and to grow,” he says. “There is always more work than skilled and experienced talent available.”

Ford has been able to hire 150 people in the capital over the past few years thanks to the automaker’s brand and the cutting-edge nature of working on connected car tech, Racz says. The promised future of autonomous vehicles captures most engineers’ imaginations and makes for a straight-forward hiring pitch.

“This is why people go to school to work on cool new stuff and it's rare (to have) the opportunity to be able to do ground-up work and there's plenty of that here at Ford.”