Canada's single greatest story from the past decade might be our ability to attract highly skilled people from every corner of the world.
As our neighbour to the south grows increasingly insular, Canada has gone the opposite way – welcoming newcomers, which has led to a boom in our tech industry. Toronto had the biggest growth of technology jobs of any North American city between 2013 and 2018. Vancouver also placed top five.
Today, roughly 40% of Canadian tech workers are immigrants. And thanks to the Global Talent Stream fast-track immigration program, Canada has brought in nearly 24,000 high-tech workers since 2017.
But the COVID crisis has disrupted the very core of immigration – the movement of people. Canada will need to think about how to maintain the momentum we’ve built to jump over the hurdles of protectionism and continued border closures to connect with the world.
TribalScale, a Toronto-based digital consultancy, is among the many Canadian tech companies with relationships across the globe. It’s played a unique role by helping hundreds of new Canadians launch lives here and by exporting Canadian intellectual property to markets from Southern California to the Persian Gulf. TribalScale’s founder and CEO Sheetal Jaitly and senior product designer Eman Faiz joined the RBC Disruptors podcast to talk about Canadian tech talent – both within our country and abroad – in a post-COVID economy.
“Our Canadian ecosystem is really built around universities, where we attract some top talent around the world to come here and study,” Jaitly said. TribalScale has recruited from across the country and sponsored international students studying in Canada who were looking to get into the workforce.
“It was very much a merit-based system where you could attract some of the smartest talent in the world to come fill the jobs that are pretty scarce in technology.”
But consider the flip side. Elevating Canadian expertise on the world stage is equally as important as bringing talent in.
“We are super strong in the areas of AI, robotics, automation,” Jaitly said. “These are all things that the entire globe now is going to need.”
“It’s a huge moment for us Canadians.”
So, as we navigate the future and all the challenges it poses, here are five key points for Canadian tech organizations to consider.
1. Human-centred design thinking is crucial. In earlier years, most of us thought of design as prescriptive, even technical. But really it’s about solving problems. It’s a mindset that keeps teams creative and agile in the face of problems and constantly looking for data-driven solutions. Even those of us who aren’t designers can benefit from design thinking, which at its core focuses on adapting to customer and end user needs.
2. Universities and colleges are Canada’s talent magnets. We’re home to some of the world’s best schools. And every year, they attract hundreds of thousands of aspiring and ambitious youth. We need to think critically and creatively about how we can use this to our benefit and take advantage of global talent that’s already living, studying and growing in Canada.
3. Remote work culture is here to stay. Unfortunately, some of the companies that were hardest hit by the COVID crisis were the ones that were not set up to thrive in a digital environment. We’ve learned many companies can function with remote working cultures and many other companies need to adapt to remote culture so they don’t get left behind. Your future employees and customers will expect it.
4. Corporate purpose – we’re seeing it everywhere. Organizations with a clear purpose and vision are better positioned to withstand enormous shocks like COVID. It sees them through tough times and tough decisions. So as we struggle through the months ahead, be open and honest about the company you’re trying to build and the kind of values and attitudes that will get you there.
5. Mindset. Hard and soft skills are important, but the right mindset can be even more valuable. Invest in team members who are not only proactive and solutions-oriented, but open to and even excited by change. To succeed, we need to learn to thrive in any environment.
As we move forward with rebuilding our economy, it’s important that we understand the value of the right tools, the right team and the right way of thinking. That way, Canadians and Canadian companies can continue to grow, thrive and innovate.
John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.
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