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.
Google’s powerful new job search feature, launched in the US last June, has begun its global expansion and is now available in India and Canada. The India expansion will aggregate job listings from over a dozen partners, the Economic Times‘ Surabhi Agarwal reported last week, including some multinational partners like LinkedIn and IBM Talent Management Solutions, as well as India-specific job search sites like QuezX, QuikrJobs, and Shine.com:
Rajan Anandan, Vice President India & Southeast Asia, said in the last quarter of 2017, Google saw more than a 45% increase in the number of job search queries. “SMEs are the largest job creators but are often unable to make their listings discoverable. This new job search experience powered by our partners and our open platform approach attempts to bridge this gap,” he added.
With “Google for Jobs,” as the feature is commonly known, the search giant does not host job listings itself but rather directs search traffic to partner job boards using its sophisticated search algorithm, promising to more efficiently connect job seekers with positions already being listed in their geographic area and professional field.
Canadians can also now use Google’s powerful search tool to find their next job, the company has announced. Partner organizations in that country include the Canadian government’s Job Bank/Guichet-Emplois, BCJobs.ca, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster.ca, Jobillico, and Jobboom.
Boston Seaport (Helioscribe/Shutterstock)
Amazon announced this week that it was opening new offices and expanding its footprints in the North American tech hubs of Boston and Vancouver. While neither of these announcements represents the highly anticipated selection of a site for the e-commerce giant’s second headquarters (Boston is on the list of 20 finalists; Vancouver is not), both plans envision creating several thousand jobs and stand to have an appreciable impact on the local talent and housing markets in these cities.
The Boston Globe‘s Tim Logan reported on Tuesday’s announcement of a new facility in Seaport Square, a major new development in the South Boston Waterfront neighborhood, which will be primarily dedicated to developing its voice-activated Alexa technology, along with cloud computing and robotics—already focal points of Amazon’s existing offices in the highly-educated city:
The company has long based much of its Alexa and Audible teams at a growing office in Kendall Square, and has beefed up its Amazon Web Services and robotics development teams here in recent years. Its new building, set to begin construction later this year and open in 2021, would mark the company’s biggest presence to date, and comes as Amazon opens a new office in nearby Fort Point.
Along with an office in the Back Bay, a robotics facility in North Reading and a massive distribution center in Fall River, the company has added 3,500 jobs in Massachusetts since 2011, with these 2,000 more to come. They have an option for a second building — with room for 2,000 more jobs — at Seaport Square should they want to expand further.
Amazon is also opening a new office in Vancouver, one of Canada’s primary tech hubs and a short hop from the company’s Seattle headquarters. Taylor Soper covered the news for GeekWire:
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Toronto is the crown jewel of Canada’s growing tech sector and a centerpiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambitions to make the country a leader in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. The city boasts a high-quality research university and a highly educated talent pool. Unfortunately, it’s also starting to experience the same problem faced by other major cities in North America: a shortage of housing, leading to high living costs for young professionals.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade has warned that rising housing costs and a short supply of decent apartments in the greater Toronto area risks harming the city’s ability to attract and retain talent, according to the Star’s real estate reporter Tess Kalinowski:
A survey by the business group last year shows 42 per cent of young professionals would consider leaving the region because of the high cost of housing. That has prompted the board to publish a Housing Policy Playbook in advance of the June provincial election with five recommendations for how the next government should tackle the housing crunch. The proposals range from building condos over transit stations to expediting construction permits. …
Salesforce will invest $2 billion in its Canadian business over the next five years, the company announced on Thursday, growing its office space, data center capacity, and Canadian workforce. The announcement came during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to San Francisco, where he is meeting with tech company executives to encourage them to grow their businesses in Canada, Reuters reports. In particular, Trudeau hopes to woo these tech companies with Canada’s more business-friendly immigration policies at a time when President Donald Trump is cracking down on legal immigration to the United States:
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff did not specify why the company chose Canada but he said, “Like you, we’re a city that values diversity, we value equality and we also value innovation. …We know we’ll be able to have a great business environment in Canada.” The company did not respond to a question about whether the immigration policies in the two countries influenced the decision.
Other American tech companies have bitten at Trudeau’s offer in the past year, Reuters adds, bolstering his efforts to make Canada (particularly Toronto) a hub for artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies. Since last May, Uber, Alphabet’s DeepMind unit, Facebook, and Microsoft announced plans to establish or expand AI research labs in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Edmonton, and Montreal. Toronto is also on Amazon’s short list of contenders for its second headquarters in North America.
The influx of foreign students to US universities is slowing down and many are opting to study in Canada instead, Laura Krantz reports for the Boston Globe, in a trend driven partly by perceptions of growing hostility toward immigrants in the US since the election of President Donald Trump:
At the University of Toronto, the number of foreign students who accepted admissions offers rose 21 percent over last year, especially from the United States, India, the Middle East, and Turkey. Other universities across the country also saw record increases in the last year. … The increase is not all because of Trump. Canada has made international student recruitment a national goal to spur economic growth. It now has 353,000 international students and wants 450,000 by 2022. But the political uncertainty in the United States — as well as in the United Kingdom — has given Canada’s effort an unexpected boost.
Overall, the number of international students in Canada has grown 92 percent since 2008. They now make up 1 percent of the country’s population. By comparison, the United States has about 1 million foreign students and a population ten times that of Canada. The number of foreign students in the United States has been growing for years, but last year it grew at the slowest rate since 2009.
Seeing a potential advantage over the US and UK, Canada has been making a significant push to lure international talent away from competitor countries, advertising itself as a more welcoming destination for immigrants, and expressing a full-throated defense of diversity and multiculturalism. The campaign is beginning to show results, with some tech startups and talent choosing to set up shop or look for work in Canada rather than the US.
As the Trump administration continues to clamp down on opportunities for skilled foreign workers, their neighbors to the north have moved in the other direction. The Canadian government is actively opening its doors to international talent as the country is increasingly becoming a haven for tech innovation, and these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Canada has long been an easier option for immigrants if they are unable to get into the United States, but was widely considered the clear-cut second choice. The current US administration’s plans to tighten the borders, including review of the H1-B visa program and halting adoption of the International Entrepreneur Rule, along with its much more restrictive posture toward immigration in general, have started shifting that assumption.
In response to Canada’s pitch to foreign firms and talent, some startups from the US and other countries are beginning to migrate to Canada, and organizations like Toronto-based Extreme Venture are even reaching out to these companies to help them make the move, the Wall Street Journal reported last week:
One taker was fulfil.io, a cloud-based software platform that aids companies in their supply-chain operations. Two of the company’s founders decided to come to Canada in May from their native India after they had to leave the U.S. when their H1-B visas expired and renewal proved difficult. They closed their first sales deal a month later. “Canada looks like the right place to grow,” said one, Sharoon Thomas, fulfil.io CEO. “I’m just surprised that we didn’t think of it first.”
For workers, the pull of a Facebook or Google paycheck and the Silicon Valley locale is still hard to beat, but Canadian government officials, tech leaders, and venture capitalists are making a concerted effort to court American tech talent.