Canada can do more to attract the world’s brightest science and tech minds
As published by Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, and Ben Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovator, in the Toronto Star.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has a difficult balancing act ahead of her as she prepares her spring budget. In light of the co-operation agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, we should expect new measures in the fiscal document to reflect some NDP priorities.
But the government will also need to deliver on its own agenda. At a news conference in January, Freeland said one of her main goals in the budget is to make Canada more innovative.
That’s encouraging, because innovation is the key to increasing economic growth and raising living standards for all Canadians. How can the budget boost our country’s capacity for innovation?
The building blocks of the innovation economy are human ingenuity, creative thinking, and disruptive business strategies. Innovation is driven by the ideas of highly skilled people — and if we want to compete, Canada must develop a rich pool of them.
Over the medium and long term, one obvious way to invest in talent is to encourage more young Canadians to study science, technology, engineering, or math — fields essential to turning ideas into new products and businesses.
But Canada’s immigration system also has an important role to play. For rapidly growing companies that urgently need to expand their workforces today, immigration is a key source of highly skilled talent. To that end, we encourage the federal government to enhance the Global Talent Stream, a program launched under the umbrella of the temporary foreign worker program in 2017.
The Global Talent Stream provides employers with fast and reliable access to workers whose skills and credentials are in chronically short supply in Canada. The program has helped many Canadian businesses grow and compete globally.
Take for example Vendasta, a Saskatoon-based e-commerce company which has hired more than 30 employees — mostly software developers — through the Global Talent Stream. Jean Parchewsky, Vendasta’s vice-president of people operations, told us that the program’s fast turnaround times were critically important.
In the early years of the Global Talent Stream, Skip the Dishes recruited more than 80 Brazilian software developers and helped them resettle in Winnipeg.
Fast-scaling technology companies often need to hire large numbers of specialized workers as quickly as possible. Remember, it’s skilled talent that fuels innovation, so when a company’s products gain traction in the market, staffing up rapidly helps to sustain that growth.
The Global Talent Stream is specifically designed to strengthen the Canadian labour market. Employers can only hire newcomers in occupations where there are proven shortages. Employers must also establish a Labour Markets Benefits Plan that demonstrates “lasting, positive impacts” for Canadian workers. That can include the creation of additional jobs in Canada, increased investments in workforce skills and training, and the provision of paid co-op or internship opportunities for young people.
The Global Talent Stream has been so successful that other countries — including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States — have introduced their own expedited-entry systems for highly skilled immigrants. In each case, the goal is to attract specialized individuals who can help companies grow, creating more jobs for local workers and benefitting the domestic economy.
To remain competitive with these new fast-track systems, Canada’s Global Talent Stream must evolve.
As a first step, the government should immediately expand access to the program by broadening the list of eligible occupations. The current list includes only a dozen or so technical occupations, such as computer networking technicians, software engineers and mathematicians. As technology evolves, so do employers’ needs. For example, a firm developing systems for autonomous vehicles might need someone who combines a background in artificial intelligence with experience in the automotive sector.
The government should also streamline the program’s requirements, especially for permit renewals, and create a dedicated support channel for employers that wish to make use of the initiative. This will make the program more client-focused.
Finally, more must be done to permanently settle workers brought in under the Global Talent Stream. Of those who received temporary work permits through the program during its first three years, only one in 10 applied to stay in Canada permanently. Accelerating the approvals process for permanent residency would make it easier to retain the brain power needed to build the next wave of leading Canadian companies.
Canada’s commitment to welcoming newcomers to its shores has long provided the country with an advantage. To thrive in an increasingly competitive world, we must continue to lead in this effort. Budget 2022 represents an opportunity to boost Canada’s innovative capacity by encouraging more of the world’s top minds to join Team Canada.
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