STEM talent: Canada's shift from brain drain to brain gain

Invest in Canada

group of students in research lab

Talent, pure and simple.

It’s an oft-quoted reason why global companies chose to expand to Canada. From computer programming to automotive manufacturing, Canada’s attractiveness as a place to do business is in no small part attributable to its highly educated workforce and availability of skilled workers.

This matters because, as more global companies choose to invest here, Canadians are reaping economic and social benefits – more high-paying jobs and opportunities to contribute to innovative sectors that promote a more sustainable future. The question, however, is: Can Canada continue to attract and retain this skilled workforce? 

To assess Canada’s ability to fill the occupations of the future, Invest in Canada set out to assess just how much highly educated talent Canada is producing, where it is located, and whether Canada is keeping these workers here, using custom data provided by Statistics Canada. 

Canada: producing and retaining 80% of STEM talent

The findings are extremely encouraging for Canadians and employers. Results show Canada produces a large and growing number of both STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and BHASE (business, humanities, arts, social science and education) graduates at all levels. And STEM talent hubs are present across the country, with all regions producing engineering and biological science graduates.

Most importantly, roughly 4 out of 5 of all STEM graduates choose to stay in Canada. Likewise, those who studied engineering, biological sciences, and physical and chemical sciences also stay within the country at a rate of 80% or above. This talent retention is good for the country and for Canadians. As we increase our expertise in sectors such as EV and battery, hydrogen, advanced manufacturing and life sciences – all of them tying back to STEM subjects – we can attract more foreign direct investment (FDI), which leads to enhanced economic benefits for Canadians.

Canada’s position in attracting and retaining skilled talent is not going unnoticed. In a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. in 2021,  it was voiced that tech talent, specifically, is growing faster in Toronto, Montréal and Edmonton than districts in Silicon Valley. Even more recently, LinkedIn’s Workforce Report for Canada revealed that Canada is outpacing the U.S. with its growth in its tech workforce over the past 12 months, where Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto saw a digital skills growth of 6.3% against 4.7 % in cities such as San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and New York City

At a time when we hear about brain drain and top talent getting recruited all over the world, it seems that Canada is, in fact, benefiting from a brain gain and will continue to attract and retain a skilled workforce.

The demand for a highly skilled and tech-savvy workforce

The occupations of tomorrow – the kinds of jobs that global businesses create when they invest in Canada – demand highly skilled, tech-savvy workers with varying levels of higher education. These valuable employees are also more difficult to retain once they are in the job market. This is true in most regions of the country.

One 2019 study indicated that to meet its full potential, the Canadian digital economy would require more than 305,000 digitally skilled workers by 2023. In other words, if Canada wants to keep innovation-spurring investment to its shores, efforts to continue training, attracting and retaining top talent must be pursued.

Canadian postsecondary institutions already boast strong international reputations, attracting 642,000 international students from across the globe before the beginning of the pandemic. According to analysis of Statistics Canada, cities such as Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and the Waterloo Region are adding more tech jobs and retaining more tech professionals than most other large North American hubs. No fewer than eight Canadian cities made the list of “Top 50 Tech Talent markets” according to CBRE. Meanwhile, Canada’s Innovation Superclusters are creating dense networks of businesses and research institutions, drawing talent from across the country, from Atlantic Canada through the Prairies and Western Canada. All of these advantages mean that more investors are choosing Canada – and bringing opportunities to Canadians in some global companies that previously would have required to move out of the country. This, in turn, creates enticing opportunities for workers to stay in Canada.

The labour market will continue to evolve. But with internationally recognized post-secondary institutions, bountiful R&D opportunities in sectors like batteries, electric vehicles and hydrogen, as well as impressive retention rates for its STEM workforce, Canada is building a strong coast-to-coast talent pipeline that will ensure it remains a destination of choice for global investors. Strategically nurtured STEM talent allows Canada to develop economic and societal wealth while fueling additional growth in the most promising industries.

Learn more about how FDI creates opportunities and prosperity in Canada.