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Countries compete for world's best talent

The competition is on to see which country can rebound the quickest from sudden recession. On a global scale, successful economic recovery demands governments set strategies on how they will compete for markets, skills and technologies worldwide that will enable private enterprise to flourish and in turn, the nation and its people to prosper. Recovery is a complex topic and how countries achieve it is always a cause of much debate. Most leaders will concur that attracting the world’s best talent to live and work has always been crucial to national prosperity and in the aftermath of COVID-19, this need is ever more pressing.

COVID hampers migration of world talent

There was what appeared to be a temporary de-globalization that came with the closing down of world economies; capital, whether in human, technological or product form, slowed or stopped moving internationally and nations had only their internal resources to fall back on. For many it exposed inadequacies in domestic manufacturing and intellectual capital, highlighting the need for more progressive policies to attract talent moving into the ‘new-normal’.

Which talent pools are coming up short?

There are three areas that must be prioritized by governments looking to set the bar in a global economy; medical and science, engineering and technology.

  • Medical and Science

Given the unprecedented public health situation and strain on health systems the world over, not one country wants to feel reliant on another for skilled healthcare workers and bio-technologists. Vaccine production for COVID was concentrated in four main countries with Canada like many others, experiencing delays in shipments as domestic facilities didn’t have the immediate capability to take on the contracts to manufacture for third parties. After four decades of decline and under-funding in this sector, Canada’s leaders are finally taking action with $2.2 billion set aside in the federal budget to boost domestic vaccine production.

In addition to increased investment, Canada has made it easier for those working in the healthcare industry as temporary residents to achieve permanent resident status with a number of new immigration programs dedicated specifically to healthcare workers who worked during the pandemic and additionally, easier pathways for international nursing graduates to settle.

There is no shortage of countries willing to rival Canada and snap-up healthcare workers with Europe, Australia, UAE and New Zealand all reporting huge gaps in their pool of health industry talent, both nurses and otherwise.

  • Engineering

Engineering covers a multitude of talent and specialty job roles across mechanical, industrial and chemical engineering to name just a few. Virtually all engineering specialtys are experiencing labor shortages to varying degrees in the developed world. The workforce is aging and depleting and it’s been suggested that employers are simply too fussy, looking to replace retiring workers with graduates who have like-for-like skills which just isn’t feasible. Then there’s the issue of attracting younger generations to study in the engineering field which has been on a downward trend for some time. The challenges are not as simple as a good PR job to extol the benefits of working in the industry to younger generations, that’s part of it of course but joined-up initiatives are needed to attract a continuous stream of both home-grown and global talent. Companies that want to be real competitors for engineering talent need to assess what they have to give workers in terms of growth opportunities through education, apprenticeships, training and progression and governments need to support those companies with a framework conducive to doing business and create an environment that affords the quality of life that all workers strive for.

  • Technology

Unsurprisingly, demand for software developers skyrocketed in 2019 as companies scrambled to enable remote work and adapt business models to online ordering. Toronto saw the biggest growth in tech talent entering the market in 2020 and Waterloo region in Ontario debuted at 21 out of the 50 top ranking tech-talent hubs in North America. Canada is also the only country outside Europe to make it into the top ten countries in the world for attracting and fostering tech talent.

Whilst Canada fares very well for tech talent, it’s not time to be complacent. There are several competitors waiting in the wings to take the accolade of top tech hub in the world and attract the cream of the crop of tech workers to their shores. Office working might have been the status-quo for these workers before but those with the most desirable skills know that they can work anywhere and indeed, when presented with two similar job opportunities, one offering flexible working and one not, 80% said they would turn down the non-flexible option. Candidates are looking beyond big brand employers for more flexibility, empathy, diversity and inclusion policies and ongoing educational opportunities to learn new things and add emerging technologies to their arsenal.

Work life isn’t the only consideration

Federal and state policymakers mustn’t fall into the trap of assuming that those who have access to the labor market through regulatory and immigration programs for example, will automatically come. Factors around family and social life should not be overlooked as major considerations for a worker looking to migrate. A family will want to understand the opportunities for education and recreation for their children, how much tax they have to pay and how affordable the housing is. For an individual or international student, inclusiveness and vibrancy of urban communities may sway a decision. Professional opportunity is important but especially in the evolving world, workers are taking a more holistic view of employment opportunities.

Why does it matter which countries attract the best talent?

As a business owner or startup, analyzing the data and looking at trends in where global talent are opting to locate is crucial for organizational growth. This information will inform business decisions on where to set up and expand operations and what the cost might be. From a tech-talent perspective, the most recent tech talent ranking report from CBRE identified the Waterloo region in Ontario as being least expensive in North America with regards to how much it costs in labor and real estate to set up a 500-seat tech company. Waterloo came in at $31 million as opposed to the highest cost which was $68 million in San Francisco.

Long-term, attracting the highly skilled and educated prepares a country to take on the challenges of the future, a future that is dynamic and dominated by technology, tech and science or to coin an acronym - STEM.

Just as many of the predictions around COVID’s impact (including a depressed housing market for North America) were proved wrong, it appears the world after COVID will be more globalized than ever before with remote work enabling employers to have their pick of a global talent pool. Despite the temporary hiatus of talent migration, the new normal comprises talented workers who are more receptive to migration in order to better themselves and their lives - countries firstly need to be equipped to welcome them and secondly to nurture and retain them.

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