Vancouver Sun: Talent for growth, Canada’s window of opportunity

Canada has an opportunity to establish itself among the best performing countries in science and innovation. At a time when the current international situation is creating uncertainty for scientists, researchers and innovators around the world, Canada’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is making Canada an especially attractive destination.

Recent initiatives such as the federal government’s Global Talent Stream, which cuts waiting times for work permits, support recruitment of talented professionals from around the world. By helping fast-growing companies acquire the talent they need, these initiatives encourage companies to stay in Canada.

We need to support talent acquisition earlier in the professional pipeline. By attracting and supporting researchers while they are learning and developing, we can build a stronger pool of highly skilled talent within Canada and ensure that they are already knowledgeable about the Canadian innovation landscape.

Ray Pan was a student at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China when he heard about an opportunity to do a summer internship in Canada through Mitacs Globalink, a highly competitive program that accepts only the best students from around the world. In Ray’s internship at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) at Simon Fraser University, he studied interactive computing and design. Most importantly, in his words, he “got to be a part of a real lab and participate in real research,” something he had not done back home.

Ray has returned to Canada for graduate studies, and he hopes to remain in Canada to work in his field. Here, he says, “You can really feel the support from the community — from the school, the professors — even from the government and organizations like Mitacs. You can feel that research and innovation are important here and there are resources to help support your future in the field.”  

Talent is the key to our innovation success. Canada offers a thriving environment for world-class talent, but competing successfully to attract, develop and retain it will require sustained focus, as well as favourable business and investment strategies.

Innovation arises from fundamental ideas, harnessing insight and principles from practically every discipline of human knowledge. Creating a healthy innovation ecosystem requires that jurisdictions attract and develop top talent, invest in fundamental or investigator-led research, create fertile conditions for startups and company growth, and connect academic talent to companies.

The Mitacs internship experience has shown that companies benefit from having access to a broad pool of highly qualified personnel and that collaborations with researchers and students from different backgrounds lead to creative, innovative solutions that may not have otherwise been possible.

I left a successful academic career in the United States to move to British Columbia because of Canada’s position as an international centre for research and innovation. As the pace of innovation accelerates throughout the world, Canada must strive to not only maintain its position, but become a leader.

Increased and sustained investment in our research system, as outlined in the Naylor Report, will be a critical component. Careful investment through the super-cluster strategy and in key priority sectors — such as artificial intelligence — will also be critical, as will the newly created Invest in Canada Hub, which promotes the country globally and encourages companies to invest here.

Recent federal and provincial investment in Mitacs supports doubling of our internship programs in the next five years. As an educator and scientist, I would like to see every graduate student in Canada offered the opportunity of holding a paid research internship in the private sector, as a key pathway to their participation in our knowledge-based economy.

These are exciting times for Canada that will lead to increased prosperity if we are willing to take advantage of the window of opportunity we now have. Now is the time for bold actions and smart investments. Through a concerted and cooperative effort, we can raise our national and provincial research and innovation networks to the highest level of global leadership of which we know Canada is capable.

By: Alejandro Adem