Despite Tech Boom, Canada’s STEM Grads Still Look South

Despite Tech Boom, Canada’s STEM Grads Still Look South

Even as Canada is working to make itself a hub for cutting-edge technologies and attract investment from global tech companies, much of its own homegrown tech talent is looking for work abroad, a new study finds. Led by the University of Toronto’s Zachary Spicer, the study found that one in four recent Canadian STEM graduates from the country’s top universities were working in other countries, mostly the US, the Globe and Mail reported earlier this month. Figures like these, Spicer warns, are enough to raise concerns about brain drain:

The numbers were higher for graduates of computer engineering and computer science (30 per cent), engineering science (27 per cent) and software engineering, where two out three graduates were working outside Canada, mostly in the United States. Nearly 44 per cent of those working abroad were employed as software engineers, with Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon listed as top employers. …

“I think policy makers should look at this as a bit of a wake-up call,” said Mr. Spicer, who said the study was the first scholarly effort to map out Canada’s tech brain drain. “When we see certain fields where upward of 65 per cent of a graduating class are leaving for the U.S., I think there should be concerns there that our homegrown companies aren’t even going to be able to access some of that talent. If we found in the 1960s that 60 per cent of our auto workers were leaving to work in other countries … we probably would have held a royal commission.”

This study’s findings may comes as a surprise, considering that Canada’s tech sector is by all accounts on an upward trend.

The country has made an aggressive push to court foreign talent and businesses over the past year, capitalizing on US President Donald Trump’s tightening of immigration policies to advertise Canadian cities as more business-friendly locations for tech companies that rely on a global talent pool. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been making the case for Canadian cities as destinations for talent and capital alike, on the basis of their diversity and inclusive attitudes, along with their educated populations, world-class research universities, and high quality of life.

Trudeau’s efforts have shown signs of success, with US tech firms and talent looking to Canada in greater numbers. Large American companies are also expanding their presence in Canada’s Salesforce announced a $2 billion investment in its Canadian business earlier this year, while Amazon is opening a new office in Vancouver, and Uber, Facebook, and Microsoft, and Alphabet’s DeepMind AI unit are all setting up or expanding research labs in Canadian cities.

Canada’s key tech hubs (chief among them Toronto and Vancouver) do face some of the same problems as cities everywhere that experience rapid growth and investment, however: namely, housing shortages and rising costs of living. While tech-focused US cities also face these challenges, if a Canadian graduate can hope to earn a higher salary in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, or Boston than in Toronto (as Spicer’s study notes they can), it makes sense that they would try to emigrate.