Canada tops in attracting talent

But we can't be complacent about position
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/03/2014

Is Canada a competitive player on the global stage? When it comes to attracting talent, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Canada is among the top three destinations for international jobseekers, according to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) global survey of more than 203,000 respondents in 70 countries.

Canada ranked third behind the United States and the United Kingdom, found Decoding Global Talent. And three Canadian cities ranked among the top 25: Toronto (eight), Montreal (21) and Vancouver (23).

That Canada received such a high ranking isn’t really surprising, said Carsten von der Linden, principal at Boston Consulting Group in Munich and co-author of the survey.

“Canada has quite an appeal internationally,” he said. “From my perspective, Canada’s been a dream destination for many people as long as I can (remember).”

Two major objectives cited by survey respondents included broadening personal experience and acquiring professional experience, said von der Linden. And Canada is perceived to provide strong opportunities for both.

“It’s a very livable country and one where you can bring all of your talent but also develop on a personal side,” he said. “Canada early on set the groundwork for an inflow of talented employees around the world (with) the advantages being to develop in a work sense, but also finding a personal situation — building a future for oneself and one’s family.”

A study by the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) found Canada ranked third, tied with Australia, as a favoured destination for jobseekers — the U.S. and U.K. ranked first and second, said Stephen Cryne, president of CERC in Toronto.

“It’s a leading democracy in the developed world, we do have political stability and it places a lot of emphasis on human and civil rights,” he said.

“We protect minorities, we’ve got great social services, we’ve got one of the best education systems in the world, our environmental record is excellent, our quality of life — who would not want to live in Canada?”

Even so, there’s still work to be done if we want to remain competitive, he said.

“Part of the challenge for us is we ought not to be complacent about that. Yes, we have those things going for us but the talent that we’re seeking gravitates to where talented people are,” he said.

“We are competing with those other destinations and when people have the opportunity to work with other highly talented people, I think that carries significant weight. And we need to keep our eye on that ball by making sure that we do have programs that encourage highly skilled people to come here.”

Competition for talent

The BCG survey found 64 per cent of respondents were willing to relocate internationally, meaning employers will have to compete for the best talent.

“What we’ve seen is the job markets have become more global in the last couple of years, and we expect that they will become more global,” said von der Linden.

And as birth rates in Western nations decline and older workers begin to retire en masse, there will be an increasing reliance on foreign-born talent.

“Many of the world’s successful economies… will be dependent on the movement of talent, of people into the countries to be able to fulfill their GDP growth rates that they aspire to. So we think that’s definitely one aspect — there will be much more movement, and companies, countries and also cities will probably have to compete in a global attractiveness market,” he said.

“And we believe cities, countries and companies will have to consider how can we establish a ‘talent magnet’ culture, as we call it, where people say, ‘This is an extremely livable city.’”

Canada has something of a headstart because it is an attractive and welcoming destination for immigration, said Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Ottawa.

“A lot of immigrants look at Canada’s economy and they see that we’re doing well and we’re stable and, compared to their home country, in many cases we don’t have the political unrest or other factors that make life more challenging,” she said.

“Immigration has always mattered to this country and to our economic success, but I think as we look to the near future, it’s going to matter even more.”

There are a couple of different factors behind that, she said.

“First of all, our labour force needs immigrants… potentially more than we’ve ever needed them in our past. And that’s because, as we all know, we’ve got this tsunami of baby boomer retirements and then the low population growth… and, in addition, we’ve got these skills gaps that are happening in various sectors and parts of the country, so that really has the potential to affect our economic growth.

So we have to recruit and keep foreign talent in our workforce, in our labour force, if we’re going to fully realize all of that economic opportunity.”

We’re also facing growing competition from the U.S., Australia and Europe, which are facing similar issues, said Anson-Cartwright.

“We simply can’t be complacent because we think of ourselves as an immigrant nation. We have to think of it in the context of what are other countries doing in terms of their tactics? Because they’re facing all those same issues in terms of the lack of labour force growth and the need to supplement it very aggressively.”

Areas to improve

To compete for talent, we need an effective, streamlined system, said Cryne.

“Our immigration programs, we like to say how good they are… but we just don’t have (and did not have) an immigration program that meets the modern realities of a global economy, so that it’s efficient, effective at getting the skilled talent into the country as quickly as possible,” he said.

The controversy around the Temporary Foreign Worker Program probably didn’t help matters, said Cryne.

“It probably stopped some people in their tracks, who said, ‘There’s a certain amount of stigma here. I’m a temporary foreign worker, and the message that’s in the media over the last 12 months is that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs from Canadians… I might not be as inclined to look at Canada favourably,’” he said.

“I don’t think the impact has been huge but I think it’s probably had some people take a second look.”

There’s also potential for the government to create initiatives like tax incentives to encourage more international talent to relocate here, said Cryne.

But the federal government has made some moves CERC applauds.

“In fairness to the federal government and Citizenship and Immigration (Canada), we’ve got great hopes for this new express entry system, which is supposedly going to target the very skills that we need and move them rapidly into Canada. So we’re very pleased with that. There is also the recently announced intent from Minister (Chris) Alexander to develop a pilot skilled trades immigration program,” he said.

If the express entry system does address the timeliness issue, that would be a key improvement, said Anson-Cartwright.

“If somebody is looking to come to Canada and they are highly qualified in a high-demand field that we need, where we need talent, we’ve got to be timely in processing their application and making sure they do in fact arrive,” she said.

“The idea of being able to know one way or the other within six months of putting in your application — six months is a much better timeframe than 18 to 24 months. And, of course historically, (in some cases) we had people waiting six or eight years, which is just untenable.”

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