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article imageStudy suggests Canada is having a 'brain drain'

By Karen Graham     May 3, 2018 in Technology
Toronto - A new study, led by Zachary Spicer, a senior associate with the Munk School of Global Affairs’ Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto, found that 1-in-4 recent grads in technical studies were working outside Canada.
The study focused on recent science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates from three of Canada's top universities – University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia and U of T, reports the Globe and Mail.
The study was initiated and partially funded by the Toronto-based tech firm Delvinia Interactive Inc. and surveyed 3,162 graduates from 2015 and 2016 in 22 STEM programs at the three universities based on their LinkedIn profiles and select follow-up interviews.
Of the recent graduates opting to work in the U.S., the numbers were highest for those in computer engineering and computer science (30 percent), engineering science (27 percent), and software engineering, where two out three graduates were working outside Canada, primarily in the U.S.
It does not come as a surprise that fully 44 percent of those working abroad as software engineers listed Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon as their employers.
“I think policymakers should look at this as a bit of a wake-up call,” said Mr. Spicer, who claims the study was the first scholarly effort to map out Canada’s tech brain drain.
“When we see certain fields where upward of 65 percent of a graduating class are leaving for the U.S., I think there should be concerns there that our homegrown companies aren’t even going to be able to access some of that talent. If we found in the 1960s that 60 percent of our auto workers were leaving to work in other countries … we probably would have held a royal commission.”
Perceived consequences of brain drain
Joey Loi, one of the 2017 survey’s authors, said that 60 percent of the University of Waterloo's systems design engineering program were moving to the United States. “There’s a premium on California and New York jobs," Loi said.
Regardless of which country is educating its students, the cost of education reaches into the billions of dollars. And when a student graduates with a degree and moves to another country, he or she ends up fueling the new country's economic growth.
The failure of Canada to have successful “scale-up” tech firms has been cited as the reason so many graduates are looking to the U.S. and other countries for employment, leaving Canada to lag behind the rest of the world in research development.
Delvinia's chief executive Adam Froman said he decided to fund the study after learning from fellow tech leaders that Canadian engineering graduates “aren’t even considering working at Canadian companies. … We all have so many job opportunities up here, yet many just want to go to California. Nobody had really asked those who had left why they left.”
Higher salaries abroad the main reason
In a 2018 State of Salaries Report compiled by Hired, tech job salaries, that includes software engineers, designers, product managers, and data analytics roles, were compared on a global basis. The big thing that jumps out when looking at the data is the difference in tech salaries in Toronto and say, San Francisco's Silicon Valley or Seattle, Washington.
Tech workers in Silicon Valley or Seattle earn on average close to double the US$73,000 rate of their peers in Toronto. And if one adjusts for the cost of living, salaries in U.S. cities in the tech industry average anywhere from 13 to over 44 percent higher than in Canada.
Elevate Toronto kicked off its inaugural year by emphasizing the immense opportunity for Canada s in...
Elevate Toronto kicked off its inaugural year by emphasizing the immense opportunity for Canada's innovation ecosystem
Without a doubt, if it is true that nearly two-thirds or more of recent graduates of top Canadian universities are leaving the country for better-paying jobs and opportunities in other countries, then Canada does have a problem said Sheldon Levy, Ontario’s former deputy minister of advanced education and skills development and former president of Ryerson University.
Mr. Froman is calling on Canadian companies, governments and universities to work together to develop a “national talent-retention strategy.”
One recommendation from the study is to raise salaries for tech jobs, as well as making themselves more visible at universities and tech conferences. It is also suggested that the government help students pay back their loans and help smaller Canadian firms fund co-op salaries. Universities should prioritize Canadian co-op placements, the study suggests.
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