Canada’s ongoing and future prosperity hinges on winning the daily global war for talent. Canada is one of the world’s winners—for now. But it needs to keep winning the battle on two fronts. “Immigrants” with options need to choose Canada. Citizens with talent need to “re-choose” Canada.
Canada added 321,065 immigrants in 2018, the largest annual increase since 1913. There was also a surge of non-permanent residents like foreign students and temporary workers. The influx helped Canada’s population grow by 528,421 in 2018, which is the biggest increase since the late 1950s, according to Statistics Canada. The roots go back to 1971 when Canada adopted a national policy of multiculturalism, which celebrates the country’s diversity.”
Nicola Wealth, the firm where I work, is a practical manifestation of this reality. The firm reflects an aggregation of talent from around the world, from Indonesia to Ireland and Scotland to China. We become accustomed to this reality, but we shouldn’t be dulled to its significance.
Canada benefits from a good international brand. Walking the streets of Ho Chin Minh City recently with my Canadian flag on my chest, I got the occasional spontaneous smile and thumb’s up. Canada has been ranked as the second-best country globally out of 80, according to the 2020 Best Countries report by US News & World Report.
The ability to attract people is a great advantage. Canadian unemployment is at a record low. Demographic challenges bewitching Europe, with an ageing population and low birth rate, are a looming challenge.
How is Canada doing in relation to its peers? A World Bank report in 2018 titled Moving For Prosperity: Global Migration and Labour Markets noted that while OECD countries account for less than a fifth of the world’s population, they host two-thirds of high-skilled migrants. Among OECD destinations the distribution is even more skewed. Four English-speaking countries— the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia—are the chosen destinations for nearly 70 percent of high-skilled migrants to the OECD.
This is a great asset for companies who are increasingly trying to gain a competitive edge by attracting talent. This is becoming the main differentiator in today’s knowledge-based economy. Countries can increase their attractiveness to highly educated immigrants through government policies and other efforts.
Canada has made some good moves. A Canadian program designed to speed up the hiring of foreign talent is attracting thousands of tech workers and other skilled employees, many of whom are unhappy with restrictive U.S. immigration policies. The Global Skills Strategy, which came into effect two years ago, has attracted about 24,000 people over the past two years.
The rising number of highly-skilled foreign workers is part of a migration surge into Canada that has been a welcome tailwind for an economy coping with ageing demographics and slowing growth. The increase in international migration, for example, has helped fuel a sharp rise in employment even amid sluggish indicators in other parts of the economy – since immigrants tend to be of working age. The shibboleth about “those people” taking our jobs reflects the speaker rather than reality.
The fast-track program has won kudos from a growing tech sector racing to compete for international talent. Toronto was the world’s fastest-growing tech-jobs market in 2017.
Highly skilled workers play a critical role in today’s knowledge economy. They make exceptional direct contributions, including breakthrough innovations. As teachers, policymakers, and entrepreneurs they influence the actions of others. They turbocharge the knowledge frontier and spur economic growth. In this process, the mobility of skilled workers, within and across national borders, becomes critical to enhancing productivity.
There are challenges, however. While we bring in people at the front end, we can lose them at the back end, primarily to the US. For example, in the high-tech world those starting their career can almost double their salary if they can get hired in Seattle or Silicon Valley. Our medical professionals can do far better financially down south. People with talent have options.
The U.S. remains the world’s largest talent magnet, including for Canadians, due to a large economy, a high GDP per capita, English as a primary language; a diverse population; and the high regard many global talents have for U.S. universities and companies. Immigrants play an important role if the ongoing success of the US economy. According to Forbes, the U.S., a country with about 4% of the global population, is attracting roughly 54% of all highly educated immigrants to the OECD countries.
Joseph E. Stiglitz in People, Power and Profits notes that American “universities and science research centers have also done more than just advance knowledge: they have attracted to our shores some of our leading entrepreneurs…Between 1995 and 2005, for example, immigrants founded 52 percent of all new Silicon Valley companies. Immigrants also founded more than 40 percent of the companies on the 2017 US Fortune 500 list.”
At the same time, there are challenges in the US. Stiglitz noted trouble ahead: “Already, others are taking advantage of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-science stance: Canada and Australia, for instance, are actively trying to recruit talented students and create research institutions and laboratories to provide viable alternatives to those of Silicon Valley.”
The bottom line is that companies do not grow without good people, and neither do countries. We should be thankful that people choose Canada, which needs to win and re-win the war for talent, daily. Further, a great mark of success is to have people re-choose Canada.