Canada Leads With World-Class Workforce

Top-notch education, support for tech knowledge, and business-friendly programs deliver for companies from around the globe.

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From the July/August 2022 Issue

With companies focused more than ever before on available workforce and quality of talent in their relocation and expansion decisions, Canada offers a broad, diverse, and highly educated talent pool. Sixty percent of workers aged 25-64 have completed post-secondary education, making Canada’s workforce the most highly educated in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Companies from around the world are taking notice of the country’s significant educational and workforce resources.

In 2021, Canada ranked fifth in the world in terms of foreign direct investment inflows, behind only the United States, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore (according to UNCTAD World Investment report). With a population of 38.1 million and spanning 3.8 million square miles (9.9 million square kilometers) across North America, Canada offers a wealth of opportunity for businesses in a range of industry sectors. Across its 10 provinces and three territories, the nation is home to both traditional and growth industries propelling companies to success today and into the future.

Canada Workforce
Canada produces a large and growing number of both Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Business, Humanities, Arts, Social Science and Education (BHASE) graduates at all levels. (Photo: Invest in Canada)

The trifecta of Canada’s education system, retention and attraction success, and programs to support workforce and talent development have captured the attention of leading companies.

“Canada produces a large number of talented graduates, fulfilling the need for a highly educated workforce for the labor market of tomorrow,” says Katie Curran, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Invest in Canada, the country’s global investment attraction and promotion agency. “And Canada is extremely successful at retaining the talent it produces and attracting skilled individuals from around the world.”

And those employees that companies are seeking have their eyes on Canada as well. In 2021, 24% of respondents in a Boston Consulting Group survey (209,000 individuals in 190 countries) listed Canada as their preferred country to work in, followed by the United States and Australia, at 20% each. Canada was third in 2018, and this result is the first time, since 2014, that the U.S. did not rank first in international preferences.

States Curran, “Canada is very strong at attracting global talent, particularly tech talent, within North America and across the world. In addition, Canada is a preferred country for international students.”

Solid Education System And STEM Leaders

As mentioned, Canada is recognized around the world for its highly educated workforce—60% of workers aged 25-64 possess post-secondary education, according to the OECD. The country consistently ranks among the top countries for the quality of its education system; in 2021, US News and World Report ranked Canada 4th for education (which contributed to the nation’s overall 1st place in US News and World Report’s Best Countries 2021).

And, students in Canada are also among the best-performing in the world. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (run by the OECD for those 15 years of age in almost 80 countries) shows that in 2018 Canada ranked 6th in reading, 12th in mathematics, and 8th in science, consistent with its previous PISA results over the past 20 years.

With tech talent in demand even before the current workforce shifts were being seen across the globe, Canada has been a leading investment destination for companies across various sectors. (Toronto and Montreal rank in the top 10 tech degree-producing university cities in North America.) The country’s education system produces a large and growing number of both Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Business, Humanities, Arts, Social Science and Education (BHASE) graduates at all levels.

STEM talent hubs are present across the country, with all regions specializing in the production of Engineering and Biological Science graduates. The Government of Canada and its federal partners have put forward several new opportunities that are aimed at increasing science literacy and the participation of Canadians in STEM, including under-represented groups like women and Indigenous communities.

Federal initiatives include:

  • CanCode (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) funding program
  • #ChooseScience digital campaign to encourage more young women to consider a career in STEM roles.
  • The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has a number of programs: Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering, PromoScience, Science Communication Skills grant, and Science Odyssey.
  • Provinces have additional funding programs and awareness initiatives to encourage STEM education among students.

For tech talent, Canada has a very strong presence across multiple regions. The 2022 CBRE Tech Talent Scoring Report highlighted that Canada houses around one million tech workers, accounting for 6.5% of the total workforce there. These include: Toronto (3rd, behind only San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle); Vancouver (8th); Ottawa (13th); Montreal (15th); Waterloo Region (24th); Calgary (28th); Edmonton (35th); and Quebec City (39th).

Canada is a global leader in international education, consistently ranking in the top 10 countries in the world for number of international students. The Government of Canada launched Building on Success: Canada’s International Education Strategy (2019-2024) in 2019, supported by $148 million over five years, and $8 million per year ongoing.

“Canada’s positive trends in tech talent are a good sign regarding talent attraction and development in the country. It also indicates that Canada is well positioned in addressing the needs of the occupations of the future, as it produces highly educated workers and the workers see a reason to stay in the country,” states Invest in Canada’s Curran.

Canada’s Talent: Global Attraction, National Retention

For global investors, Canada’s qualified talent is perceived as one of the most significant reasons to invest in the country. Talent is a key driver of FDI, and in the past there has been a perception that the country was losing top talent to higher salaries in the U.S. (referred to as “brain drain”).

Canada Workforce
Most provinces in Canada have an estimated national retention rate of 80% or higher for STEM bachelor degree graduates. (Source: Invest in Canada)

In an experimental project with Statistics Canada on 2018 STEM mobility, Invest in Canada gathered data to evaluate and illustrate what the talent landscape looks like for Canada as a whole—demonstrating that STEM graduates stay within the country. The findings highlighted the reality that post-secondary graduates in STEM fields are remaining in Canada at far higher rates than may be perceived.

Several of the findings:

  • STEM graduates: The total number of STEM bachelor’s degree graduates in Canada grew by 4.1% between 2018 and 2019. Female graduates took up 42% of all STEM bachelor’s degree holders, a higher concentration than the 36% share of female STEM graduates across all credential types.
  • STEM mobility for Canada: In a sample of 32,811 STEM bachelor’s degree graduates from 2016, data has shown Canada retained nearly 82% of these graduates two years post-graduation.
  • National retention rate: For STEM graduates (across all programs), most provinces have a national retention rate of 80% or above.
  • National retention rate by program: Canada is best at retaining its Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Physical and Chemical Sciences bachelor’s degree graduates, with all three programs having national retention rates above 80%.

Educational hotspots such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and the Waterloo Region are adding more tech jobs and retaining more tech professionals than the majority of other large North American hubs. And, the preference for Canada as a work destination is made evident by the appeal it has to workers that are sought out by other countries, such as those possessing higher education (master’s and PhD degrees), digital training or expertise, and workers under the age of 30. Cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal are among the top 25 cities preferred by foreign workers.

Focused on establishing the talent pipeline in the country, the Government of Canada has established Workforce Development Agreements (WDAs) with provincial and territorial governments. The agreements provide $722 million annually, as well as $900 million over six years from 2017-2018 up to 2022-2023, for the development and delivery of programs and services that help Canadians get training, develop skills, and gain work experience. The agreements also offer flexibility to provinces and territories to respond to the diverse employment and skills training needs of Canadians.

For international investors looking at Canada, the Global Skills Strategy allows companies to attract top international talent to the country through a fast and predictable immigration process. The strategy features faster application processing times, work permit exemptions and enhanced customer service, including two-week processing for high-skilled talent. In its first four years (2017-2021), more than 64,000 applications were received and 94% were approved.

Industry Responds With Investments

As tech companies of all shapes and sizes look for their next relocation or expansion site, Canada is well-versed in supporting the evolving needs of traditional and emerging industries.

Jobs in electric vehicle (EV) technology are on track to grow 39% per year, with 184,000 people set to be employed in the industry in 2030­—a 26-fold increase over 2020.

Recent investment news includes Windsor, Ontario as the site of Canada’s first large-scale domestic EV battery manufacturing facility, thanks to a joint venture between Stellantis N.V. and LG Energy Solution (LGES). A $4.1 billion (US) investment, the plant will produce leading edge lithium-ion battery cells and modules to help meet Stellantis’ North American vehicle production requirements. The project will create an estimated 2,500 jobs in the region. In May 2022, Stellantis followed up by announcing it will invest $2.8 billion (US) in Ontario to create a vertically integrated EV supply chain at its Windsor and Brampton plants.

Canada Workforce
Canada is putting forward initiatives aimed at increasing science literacy and the participation of Canadians in STEM, including under-represented groups like women and Indigenous communities. (Photo: Invest in Canada)

Even more recently, in mid-July 2022, Belgium-based Umicore announced the building of a new manufacturing facility for EV battery materials in Loyalist, Ontario, midway between Toronto and Montreal. The $1.2 billion (US) investment will see the creation of the first facility in North America to manufacture cathode active materials and their precursor materials at an industrial scale. The plant, which will run on 100% renewable energy, is projected to supply materials for one million EVs a year.

Jobs in the EV technology industry are the fastest-growing in most provinces, but several other industries also stand out. Hydrogen technology sees jobs expected to grow 27% per year between 2025 and 2030. And, even in Canada’s oil and gas heartland, clean energy jobs in Alberta are set to increase 164% over the next decade—the greatest increase of any Canadian province—while Saskatchewan will also see clean energy jobs double. In 2020, the clean energy sector employed 430,500 people. By 2030, that is projected to grow almost 50% to 639,200, according to Clean Energy Canada.

Whether in traditional high tech or groundbreaking clean tech, Canada and its highly skilled and educated workforce is ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.