Magnetic North: How Canada Holds its Own in the Global Race for Innovation Talent

A thriving innovation economy depends on companies with great ideas. But great people are just as important.

Canada’s fast-growing technology sector appears to be holding its own in the global race for talent, even after the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of employment data by the Innovation Economy Council. Indeed, jobs in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — are holding up much better than employment in the rest of the Canadian economy. After an initial dip, there are now nearly 100,000 more STEM jobs than there were in February. Companies and organizations absorbed the economic hit, pivoted to remote work and quickly resumed hiring.

The resilience of tech employment in uncertain times is a testament to some of the sector’s key strengths: an immigration system that welcomes skilled foreigners, a steadily growing crop of post-secondary STEM graduates, generous R&D tax credits and a thriving ecosystem of startup companies. Foreign tech giants and emerging companies alike are building operations here to tap our talent in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, bioengineering and other fields. The federal Global Talent Stream program is bringing senior talent to Canada. This all suggests that Canada is on the right track.

Complacency, however, is not a strategy. Many of Canada’s top STEM graduates are still drawn to U.S. tech hubs in places like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston, attracted by hefty salaries and the cachet of careers with top global brands. Canadian companies must work harder to create opportunities so people don’t leave, but also to lure them back after they’ve gained valuable foreign experience.

It’s not assured that Canada’s advanced industries will be able to sustain the momentum they had before COVID-19. While tech companies are hiring again, data compiled by the IEC shows that job postings for STEM jobs are down 50 percent from where they were in February — a possible indication that industry momentum is slowing.

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