From Brain Drain to Brain Gain: The Case of Canada

In my previous blog post, I discussed the topic of entrepreneurial talent and highlighted some findings from the latest GTCI report. One of the key points in the report was about the need to nurture such talents as they provide small businesses, large organizations and countries with a competitive edge. The notion of nurturing implies not only good HR practices within organizations though. We should also speak about dynamic and open ecosystems at the levels of cities, regions or countries.

Canada seems to have embraced this idea, whereas Trump’s U.S. seems to miss the point. Although president Trump continuously claims that he hires ‘only the best people’, recent data suggests that the best people are increasingly attracted to Canada. For example, according to a CBRE report on tech talent, between 2012 and 2017 Toronto has created more tech jobs than San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, together. Indeed, Canada has become a major tech hub and is experiencing so-called ‘brain gain’ at the moment.

As noted in the FT article, this ‘brain gain’ can be partially explained by Toronto’s relative affordability, compared to tech giant cities in the US for instance, and the innovative STEM research done at the University of Toronto. Yet, there seem to be clear pull and push factors of a larger scale as well. Many see Canada’s gain as a result of U.S. losses. Indeed, Canada positions itself as more welcoming to foreign talent than the U.S. While Trump’s immigration policies have tightened the requirements for gaining H-1B visas, threatened to ban spouses of foreign hires from working, and kept on chanting the ‘buy American, hire American’ principle, foreign talent is increasingly heading north.

Seeing opportunities rather than threats in skilled foreign workers, Canada implements its Global Skills Strategy, which makes it easier to bring in foreign talent. Focusing on tech talents, the immigration system allows developers, computer analysts, software engineers and alike to get work permits to enter Canada within two weeks of application. Moreover, Canadian policies try to retain the brightest foreign talent in the country already upon graduation, by granting foreign students work permits for up to three years after graduation.

The practice of targeting specific skills that are lacking locally seems to have a strong buy-in among business owners, and not only in Canada. As noted in the FT article, corporate America also feels the need for foreign talent and has been increasingly lobbying for a more open immigration regime, unfortunately with little success so far.

The bottom line is that companies, cities and countries are indeed facing global competition for talent and it is about time to embrace this reality. From the words of an entrepreneur cited in the FT article, Canada does exactly that: “It really struck us how Canada saw that they were in a global talent competition, and how they intended to win. Canada I think recognizes that they are a country of immigrants, that their strength is because of their diversity and that to grow and expand they have to bring in the best and brightest around the world”.

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