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Celebrating thirty-five years of staffing

From analog to AI and paper to cloud, a look back over the decades

Published on

March 1, 2024


This month, Altis is celebrating our 35th anniversary. Over the years, we’ve truly seen it all: from snail mail to ChatGPT, boardrooms to Zoom meetings, photocopies to cloud documents, and beyond! As the world has rapidly changed around us, we’ve sometimes had to sprint to keep pace—but we’ve always pushed to stay ahead of the pack.  

In honour of this milestone, we’d like to take you with us as we look back on the changes over the past few decades and reflect on the good, the bad and the interesting that helped bring us to where we are today.  

The ‘80s: Big hair and even bigger computers

Way back in the analog era of '89, when hair was big and computers were even bigger, Kathryn and Toni put down the first roots of what would become Altis Recruitment in Ottawa. Known as The Morgan Mitchell Group in those days, the place was buzzing—not with notifications, but with the whirr and whine of fax machines, dot-matrix printers and the odd pager.  

Back then, so much of our time was spent sorting physical resumes stored in bulky filing cabinets, flipping through our enormous rolodexes or trying to find that one business card from the massive collection picked up at a networking event. The mere act of bringing in the stacks of CVs that came in the mail each morning doubled as bicep exercise for a lot of us!    

There was just so much to carry—papers, folders, floppy disks and rolls of quarters for the payphone if you had to make a call on the road. Even those of us who had cell phones at the time realistically just had another bulky accessory to cart around! Packing for out-of-office meetings was like packing for a weekend vacation—bulging briefcases, stuffed shoulder bags and arms full of the things that didn’t quite fit. It’s amazing how quickly all those items were replaced by one tiny device we keep in our pockets—and a perfect example of just how much change we’ve navigated over the years.

In those early days, the routine task of crafting job ads for newspapers was an artform in itself. Every word had to count, given the print cost per line—and making those tight deadlines wasn’t always easy! Those newspaper ads were our bread and butter; we’ll never forget the rush we’d get on Monday mornings, with the landlines ringing off the hook from eager candidates who saw our ads in the huge weekend classified sections. Our switchboard operator frantically wrote hundreds of messages per day on those tiny pink forms—and oh, how we despaired when one digit in the phone number was off!

The ‘90s: The Wild West of the World Wide Web

As we danced into the '90s under the excelHR and AltisHR banners, the digital age began knocking at our door, bringing with it the early internet days—and a whole new language like modems, dial-up and TCP/IP emerged. The words java, network and superhighway found a completely new meaning.  

Recruitment was evolving, and so were we, embracing the flickering screens of early computers and the delightful new pings of email alerts. In these early days, every sent email felt like a message in a bottle tossed into the vast ocean of the World Wide Web. Almost overnight, we went from filing cabinets stuffed with paper resumes to floppy disks and CDs labeled with candidates' names. It seemed like we were stepping into the future, one storage device at a time.

The email generation blurred the lines between work and home, as knowledge workers everywhere were suddenly able to access all that ‘paperwork’ from their kitchen tables, and working parents could access their files after putting the kids to bed. Some recruitment started to emerge in online chat rooms. Oh, and let’s not forget the smartphone... mobile devices became a standard for busy business professionals (their family members would join the cellphone generation a bit later).

Y2K: The digital doomsday that wasn’t

And then, almost as soon as we had digitized, the media started buzzing about “the Y2K crisis” as though doomsday was approaching, and we started to question ourselves. Had we jumped to digitize too quickly? Were the computers we had put our trust in about to betray us?  

Like almost everyone else, we over-prepped for this digital apocalypse, hurriedly printing out hard copies of everything we'd just worked so hard to make paperless. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, we were glued to the television expecting reports of worldwide calamity, only to discover... absolutely nothing happened. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, probably let out a nervous chuckle or two, and got right back at it.

The early 2000s: Expanding our physical and digital footprints

As we sailed past Y2K, our company found itself on the cusp of a new era. From that one little room in Ottawa, the company expanded to two new offices—a new, bigger Ottawa location and an office in Toronto’s financial district—and grew from two to 29 employees. We also continued to expand our IT contracting and placement division, as the demand grew for talented software engineers, developers and other specialized tech talent in both the private and public sectors.  

And those early days of the online job market were indeed chaotic! The early 2000s were like the Wild West of the digital world, a time when online job boards started popping up everywhere, each promising to be the next big thing in recruitment.  

Instead of collecting want ads from the weekend papers and making phone calls or mailing resumes one by one, talented candidates across Canada suddenly had access to thousands of online job postings from anywhere in the world right at their fingertips—and we could reach many of them in just a few clicks. And then 2003 brought the dawn of LinkedIn. It was like showing up at a massive networking event where you don't know anyone—exciting but slightly terrifying.  

The rapid shifts of the early 2000s transformed the way we searched for and engaged with talent. Our evolution wasn't just about adopting new software; it was about adapting our mindset to an advancing, and sometimes unpredictable, world.  

9/11: Enter a new age of security

One seemingly normal, sunny September morning in 2001 would prove just how unpredictable it had become. In those first days after 9/11, while we grieved for our neighbours to the south and those lost in the attacks, a new reality was forming for both government and corporate security. Offices we once strolled into freely with a wave and a smile now required access badges to navigate past new layers of security, and many employers began to require new and complex security clearances for permanent and contract candidates alike.

The red tape and time it took to process all this paperwork was starting to make us think we’d time-traveled back to the ‘80s. To save time, we put our heads together and created a process to screen, clear and pre-qualify candidates as fast as possible, so they were ready for our clients in the federal government.  

2001-2010: The rise of social media and “always connected”

Through the decade to come we expanded rapidly, adding talented staff, a huge database of candidates and some welcome accolades—including our first designation as one of Canada’s Best Managed companies by Deloitte (an honour we’ve since enjoyed for 17 consecutive years—we’re now Platinum Club members!).  

We also grew our offices, adding dynamic new teams in Mississauga, North York and Vancouver, and started to think about new ways to help all these recruiting rockstars work as flexibly and efficiently as possible as the world continued to move into new and uncharted territories.

When the first smartphones arrived, placing a universe of information in the palms of our hands, we could now text candidates to reach them faster. Instantly everyone was plugged in, online and accessible 24/7, and a whole new culture began to evolve. From Myspace to Facebook, Instagram to Pinterest, Snapchat to TikTok, and all the forgotten ones in between (anyone remember Google+?), social media rapidly took over as people’s main tool for communication and connection.  

This seismic shift brought challenges and changes to the recruitment industry as well. Never had we guessed in 1989 that the hottest, most in-demand roles would all be new—database architects, business analysts, network administrators, web developers and social media managers.  

As progress buzzed along, we were right there with it, storing our data online and digitally connecting our teams across the country.  

March 2020: The tiny germ that changed everything

Turns out, our tech-savviness helped set us up to respond to a new challenge no one saw coming: the Covid-19 pandemic. At 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday March 13, 2020, we packed up our offices for what we expected to be a short lockdown working remotely. Two weeks, we thought. If only we knew then what we know now, we probably would have brought a lot more home with us that evening.  

Few imagined that a virus could grind the entire planet to a standstill overnight and change society forever. The recruitment ramifications were quick—more than 800 of our candidates-on-assignment were laid off in those early days of Covid-19, and we sprang into action to get them all back to work.  

The year 2020 also marked a year of enormous changes in the structure of the labour market—from new roles in contact tracing and Covid testing, to disrupted employment in hospitality and retail, to a flourishing gig economy, and a new wave of technology to help us adapt to remote and hybrid workplaces.

As the months stretched on and it became clear we wouldn’t head back to the office any time soon, we started to pivot our thinking, exploring new ways to keep our team engaged, healthy and happy while working remotely, and reimagining the basics of what a truly inclusive workplace looked like in this new world.

May 2020: The Inclusion Revolution

George Floyd’s death and discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools were calls to action, and sparked new thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion in our organization. We opened ourselves to learning and listening—and the lessons were abundant.  

We asked ourselves tough questions, consulted with outside experts to learn, developed a new DEI strategy, updated our recruitment practices to remove unintended biases, and committed to our collective training over the long haul. Most of all, we recognized and worked to remove the barriers to success that many talented people from underrepresented communities face.  

With record numbers of immigrants joining the fabric of Canada, we’re striving to bring these new skills and new entrants into the fold, giving paid work experience to newcomers every year. After all, amplifying the careers of newcomers will fuel our future workforce.

Today, all-inclusive diversity is one of our guiding principles, woven throughout the fabric of our organization and values.

Today: Moving into the AI future

Let’s admit it. Back in 1989, we never imagined just how much mobile technologies would change our work and personal lives. We now shop with our fingers, compare and arrange travel with a click, do our banking, learn new skills, monitor our health and find our life partners from anywhere. Who knew that meditation and mindfulness techniques would become so accessible, and that we could simulate how we’d look with age!  

We also never thought about resumes written by robots—no wonder they’re all starting to look and sound exactly like the same ChatGPT author. Just when we thought the machines would replace our fierce recruiters, it turns out, the human in screening and selection is more important than ever before. While we appreciate the help of our robot friends and our high-tech tools, intuition and the personal touch remain the hallmark of our success.

We also never imagined today’s new roles—data scientists, business intelligence developers, cybersecurity architects and machine learning specialists. And we never could have predicted back in 1989 that the role of Influencer would become a full-time career from homes across the globe.

While employers in the ‘80s expressed deep concern when candidates left their job after 10 years, today it’s expected that the average worker will change jobs 10 or 12 times. And whereas it used to be common for workers to live close to their employer’s head office, today’s millions of digital nomads work from coffee shops and beaches around the globe.  

Today, Altis remains a flexible, nimble, inclusive and adaptable place to work. We put our people first, and believe in balancing work and life, so we offer a remote-by-choice work model and flexible schedules. Bonus carryover from those lockdown days: flexible dress code. NO hard pants required, no high heels and no starched dress shirts, thank you very much.  

Looking ahead: Optimism and energy for a bright future

Looking back over the 35 years, it's been quite the ride—from paper cuts and licking envelopes to clicking 'send' and asking AI for an assist. We've navigated each new technological and cultural shift with a spirit of adventure and a commitment to maintaining a human approach to hiring.  

Today, we’re a truly national organization, with more than 220 employees across Canada, 2,900 amazing clients and over 8,000 placements each year. Altis Technology has grown to stand as its own distinct brand, with thousands of specialized placements over the years. And we continue to move upward and onward!  

As we look to the future, we're excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. With each new breakthrough, we're reminded of the importance of staying true to our roots, combining the best of what's new with the values that have guided us from the start. And always moving forward. That’s right, there’s no going back to those hard pants.

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