Canada’s Brain Gain

To a roomful of academics in August, Stephen Harper announced the end of Canada’s “brain drain” – the end of highly skilled professionals leaving Canada for the U.S. and other countries. Although Canada’s “brain drain” was likely overblown even during the height of its hype (Here is a Stats Can report on the issue from early 2000), it is undeniable that Canada’s job market is becoming increasingly attractive to Americans and other foreign professionals.

It’s no secret that Canada’s economy has been outperforming it’s American neighbour. Historically, unemployment in the U.S. has been far lower than Canada. Now the positions are reversed. Canada’s unemployment rate in October was an unprecedented two percentage points lower than the U.S. (9.1% vs. 7.1%). Unsurprisingly, the Globe and Mail has reported that many Americans are looking north for new opportunities. This is a complete reversal of the attitude of policy makers and the media a decade ago.

The improvement in Canada’s global job market competitiveness has happened rapidly. The World Economic Forum, as part of its Global Competitiveness report, shows the incredible improvement in Canada’s ability to retain talent. Since 2005, the Global Competiveness survey has asked executives to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 (7 being the best) “Does your country retain and attract talented people?”. In 2005, Canada ranked 21st below emerging and fast-growing countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Ireland. In 2011, Canada ranked a much improved 7th. According to the WEF report, Canada has also improved its ‘effecient use of talent’ metric. Since 2005, its rank has improved from 14th to 4th. So relative to other countries, Canada is now retaining highly-skilled workers and using their work more efficiently.

Now, if only Canada could do something about its overall Global Competitive Index ranking which has been virtually stagnant over the same period.