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Magnetic North: How Canada Holds its Own in the Global Race for Innovation Talent

Innovation Economy Council | Barrie McKenna | Dec 2020

Innovation economy council report Dec 2020 - Magnetic North: How Canada Holds its Own in the Global Race for Innovation TalentA thriving innovation economy depends on companies with great ideas. But great people are just as important.

Canada’s fast-growing technology sector appears to be holding its own in the global race for talent, even after the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of employment data by the Innovation Economy Council. Indeed, jobs in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — are holding up much better than employment in the rest of the Canadian economy. After an initial dip, there are now nearly 100,000 more STEM jobs than there were in February. Companies and organizations absorbed the economic hit, pivoted to remote work and quickly resumed hiring.

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The resilience of tech employment in uncertain times is a testament to some of the sector’s key strengths: an immigration system that welcomes skilled foreigners, a steadily growing crop of post-secondary STEM graduates, generous R&D tax credits and a thriving ecosystem of startup companies. Foreign tech giants and emerging companies alike are building operations here to tap our talent in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, bioengineering and other fields. The federal Global Talent Stream program is bringing senior talent to Canada. This all suggests that Canada is on the right track.

“It’s a positive sign [for the STEM sector] but maybe not for the economy in general. Jobs haven’t come back and the growth isn’t there,” explains Brittany Feor, an economist at the Ottawa-based Labour Market Information Council (LMIC).

Complacency, however, is not a strategy. Many of Canada’s top STEM graduates are still drawn to U.S. tech hubs in places like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston, attracted by hefty salaries and the cachet of careers with top global brands. Canadian companies must work harder to create opportunities so people don’t leave, but also to lure them back after they’ve gained valuable foreign experience.

Remote work is reshaping tech

The pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already taking root in the tech industry, namely the shift to distributed workforces. Large and small companies alike now realize that workers can be productive from virtually anywhere with a good internet connection. That could be home, another city, even another country. Companies also know they might be able to pay people less in lower-cost locations.

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The impetus to spread their workforces around is perhaps greatest for companies in high-cost locations, such as Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York. These cities have traditionally been magnets for tech talent from around the world, including Canada, but the salaries and office space add up.Many large tech companies now acknowledge that many employees may never return to the office, even after the pandemic. At Google, for example, most employees will be working from home until at least summer 2021. Many other companies, such as Twitter and Slack, are letting employees work from home permanently.

Foreign companies are tapping Canadian talent

Tech companies have learned that it’s no longer essential to bring people to them. They can just as easily set up shop where the talent is, virtually anywhere in the world. That’s created new opportunities for Canadian cities with good universities and existing clusters of technology companies, including the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.If their employees can work from nearly anywhere, why not Canada?

 

That’s part of the reason why tech colossuses Google, Facebook and Amazon have all opened large offices in Canada in the past five years.But it’s not just the tech behemoths that have discovered the Canadian advantage. Foreign startups are also coming here, eager to hire people with valuable skills in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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In June, New York-based AI security company Behavox committed $35 million to a multiyear office lease in downtown Montreal to build what it calls its “global operations hub.” Behavox now has 120 employees in Montreal and it’s adding new ones at a rate of roughly one per day, including engineers with AI and data-science skills. The company expects to have as many as 1,000 employees in the city within three years.

Download the 22 page PDF report --> here


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