One in Four STEM Talent Choosing to Work in the U.S. Over Canada After Graduation: Study

braindrain

Talent exodus the highest in software engineering, computer engineering, computer science, engineering science and systems design engineering

Toronto, May 3, 2018 — A new study from researchers at Brock University and the University of Toronto has found Canada’s brain drain in the technology and innovation sector exceeds levels that have been identified as detrimental to the growth of an economy.

The study, “Reversing the Brain Drain: Where is Canadian STEM Talent Going?” examined the reasons why so many graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics opt to leave Canada after their post-secondary education to seek work in other countries and asked what can be done to retain talent here in Canada.

The research, led by Zachary Spicer, Senior Associate in the Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, supported by Nathan Olmstead and supervised by Nicole Goodman of Brock University and David Wolfe of the University of Toronto, unveiled some alarming trends:

  • Talent migration is highest in software engineering (66%), computer engineering (30%), computer science (30%), engineering science (27%), and systems design engineering (24%);
  • The vast majority have opted to work in the U.S. for one of three main reasons: higher pay, firm reputation (work for the biggest companies in tech), and the perceived greater variety in terms of scope of work;
  • University of Waterloo graduates in particular claim peer pressure throughout their university career to seek work with large American technology firms, buoyed by a “Cali or bust” maxim;
  • According to the graduates interviewed for this study, the faculty at each of the universities examined was mainly agnostic about career destinations for their graduates;
  • Scholarly literature indicates brain drain negatively impacts a country when the rate of migration for the highly educated surpasses 20 per cent of graduates.

“Despite the brain drain plaguing Canada’s tech sector, our study uncovered that it’s not all doom and gloom, and that the time is ripe for new and returning talent to make their mark with Canadian companies,” Spicer said. “In fact, there is a consensus among those interviewed for this study to return to Canada at some point in their careers.”

Using a sample of 3,162 graduates with LinkedIn profiles from the University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, researchers examined the programs they studied and the jobs they took post-graduation, including the location of these jobs. Further, 35 interviews were completed with individuals within this LinkedIn database to better understand, among other things, their motivations for seeking work in the U.S., the recruitment process post-graduation, their impression of leading Canadian firms in their sector, and what can be done to persuade them to work in Canada in the future.

Delvinia, an innovative data collection firm headquartered in Toronto, funded the study combined with the support of a Mitacs grant. For Adam Froman, the CEO of Delvinia, the decision to sponsor this study emerged from a discussion with fellow Canadian scale-up CEOs being held back due to the talent shortage.

“Canada is a hotbed of tech talent, producing some of the best in the industry globally. But it’s a problem when graduates from STEM programs aren’t even aware of the great job opportunities that exist right here in Canada, with innovative Canadian-owned companies,” explained Froman. “To scale to new heights companies need the right team — the best of the best — because as they grow, they become even greater contributors to the Canadian economy, generating high-earning jobs and creating additional indirect employment.”

The study revealed of those graduates who actually chose to remain in Canada, many found employment with American-headquartered companies. In fact, only two of the top ten employers for those with tech-based degrees who chose to remain in Canada are Canadian-owned — Scotiabank and Shopify.

Froman advocates that the solution lies in recognizing that there is a problem first, then adopting a more collaborative approach between industry, academic institutions and government in the development of a national retention strategy; one that not only keeps talent in Canada, but also helps further grow the technology sector by creating greater awareness for the incredible opportunities with Canadian-owned firms, specifically those in the scale-up stage.

Alejandro Adem agrees with this sentiment. As the CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs, a national not-for-profit research and training organization, his organization works on numerous industry-academia partnership projects to help grow industries.

“As we’ve seen throughout the years in our work with universities, truly collaborative ventures between academia and the private sector have led to some of the greatest innovations and successes our country has seen,” Adem said. “Fortunately, this study outlined key opportunity areas for stakeholders to help promote the profile of Canadian tech companies to better attract our home-grown talent.”

Recommendations to retain Canadian STEM talent and encourage them to work for Canadian-owned companies:

  • Improve compensation: Overcoming student debt was a major concern cited by the respondents in this study. To compete with U.S. firms, Canadian companies should consider increasing compensation packages and offering creative compensation benefits such as student loan repayment and providing stock options or performance-based bonuses. Government can help close the compensation gap by considering offering loan interest relief programs for those graduating from select stem programs.
  • Raise the profile of the Canadian tech sector: Graduates interviewed knew very little about the Canadian tech ecosystem. More profile is needed to impress talent, not just investors and clients and Canadian firms need to be more open about their long-term plans, including which companies are scaling and the products they are releasing.
  • Collaboration between higher education, corporate Canada and government to rethink co-op strategies: The co-op pipeline is crucial to recruitment and retention efforts and, as such, measures that ensure the last co-op placement a student completes is with a Canadian firm would make strides in promoting the work being done in Canada, by Canadian companies. Recruitment efforts should also include information on how employees can grow their career along with the firm while the public and private sectors need to collaborate on an approach to help close the gap in pay between American and Canadian co-op placements.
  • Continue investment in research and innovation: Increasing this investment will only work to enhance the innovation capacity of Canadian companies and allow them to scale their firms. Such strategies have proven successful in talent retention and luring tech talent back home in India, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.

For the full recommendations for actions to be taken by industry, academia and the government, download the report at: https://brocku.ca/braindrain.

About Delvinia

Delvinia is transforming the way organizations collect and use data, enabling them to make better and more informed decisions. Founded in 1998, the innovation company includes a successful portfolio of digital businesses, each with a focus on data collection. Delvinia Custom Solutions uses new and emerging technologies to help clients collect, visualize and enable data; AskingCanadians and AskingAmericans offer a range of data collection services to market researchers throughout North America, including access to an online research community of more than one million Canadians; and Methodify provides the ability to gain customer insights through an innovative online platform in as little as 12 hours. For more information, visit delvinia.com.

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Media contact:

Sonia Prashar, soniaprashar@sppublicrelations.com, (416) 560-6753