With one in four recent Canadian STEM graduates leaving the country, citing better job opportunities abroad, talent migration affects us all. A shortage of talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math constrains Canada’s potential for economic diversity, development, and innovation. 

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) may have found a solution to Canadian brain drain. Its research and development unit, Borealis AI, supports innovation through scientific study and exploration in machine learning and artificial intelligence.  

Since the company’s inception in 2015, Borealis AI has partnered with Mitacs to support RBC’s quest for innovation through academic collaboration. In addition to solving specific challenges of machine learning, Borealis AI may have stumbled upon the solution to one of the biggest challenges in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in Canada — retaining top talent.  

Borealis AI opened its first locations in Toronto and Edmonton, hiring Mitacs interns for research projects with the Universities of Toronto and Alberta. Immediately, Borealis AI recognized the value of interns — accessing talented young researchers in the field of AI. With access to university faculty experts and laboratories, the interns proved vital to the company’s success. Borealis AI has since expanded to work with Mitacs interns and universities coast to coast. By leveraging Mitacs’s funding, Borealis AI is able to offer more competitive salaries. 

The Borealis AI–Mitacs partnership positively impacts multiple stakeholders. Students gain industry experience and technical skills, building upon what they’ve learned in the classrooms and labs. Borealis AI accesses potential talent early on in a researcher’s career. The company develops and grooms top talent in the field of artificial intelligence. The company currently has two full-time staff members that were former Mitacs interns.  

The partnership also benefits society — there currently isn’t enough domestic talent to fill all the AI jobs available in Canada. Talent migration is especially high in technology-focused STEM programs like computer science, with up to 30 percent of graduates choosing to leave Canada to find work elsewhere, compared to 25 percent of STEM graduates overall. 

Borealis AI equips research interns with real-world challenges and data sets so that students can advance their learning in the field and add industry skills to their studies.  

By developing skilled people in the field of artificial intelligence and creating job opportunities for Canadian graduates, this partnership can curtail Canada’s top researchers from seeking artificial intelligence work internationally.  

As Eirene Seiradaki, Director of Research Partnerships at Borealis AI, says, “We’re trying to help stop talent from bleeding abroad. With the help of Mitacs, Borealis AI gives researchers an opportunity to stay in Canada and work in their chosen field.” 

Harris Chan is one of these researchers. Harris is a former Mitacs intern and a PhD student at Professor Sanja Fidler’s lab at the University of Toronto. He says, “The Mitacs internship at Borealis AI gave me an opportunity to work with industry experts in the field of machine learning on an important problem that was also relevant to my research interests. The internship also shed light on to the available career paths as a researcher in the company, which really helped broaden my post-graduation options outside of academia.” 

Partnerships such as these create those better job opportunities in Canada that STEM graduates have previously been going abroad for. Creating more incentives and making Canadian-employment more attractive creates a solution for the problem of ‘brain drain’ — turning it in to ‘brain retain.’