O Canada: US Companies Struggling With Talent Shortages Should Look North for Inspiration

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With the country in the midst of an unprecedented streak of full employment, there are more employers looking for talent than there are candidates seeking jobs in the United States. It’s a good problem to have if you’re a politician, but if you’re a recruiter tasked with filling open positions for American companies, the struggle is real.

Even if the economy cools down in the coming months, recruiters will be dealing with talent shortages in critical sectors like technology and medicine for years to come. There simply aren’t enough candidates in the pipeline to meet projected demand. That means recruiters and policymakers alike will have to get creative.

If you’re in need of inspiration, look north to Canada.

Growing the Population to Meet Growing Talent Needs

As baby boomers retire in great numbers, they are creating what industry analysts call the “silver tsunami,”  a wave of job openings employers are struggling to fill in a full-employment job market. The labor shortage can be especially acute in sectors like manufacturing, which may not be as attractive to younger employees as they were to their parents and grandparents.

But even if innovative programs to get younger workers interested in more traditional jobs succeed, declining birth rates in the US and other developed countries still pose a challenge to finding enough talent.

Canadian employers face the same sort of obstacles as their American counterparts, and in response, Canadian policymakers have looked outside their borders to grow the population. As detailed in a January 2019 Bloomberg article, the county’s 2018 population growth rate of 1.4 percent was its highest in 30 years, thanks in part to an influx of 425,000 immigrants.

The Canadian government predicts that by 2031, close to half of Canadians over the age of 15 will be immigrants or the children of immigrants, a direct result of the government’s conscious effort to expand its pool of skilled talent. According to the Bloomberg piece, bringing in skilled workers from abroad has resulted in thousands of new jobs being created in the country and significant benefits for companies operating in Canada.

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Programs to Match Talent With Opportunities

Immigration can be difficult to navigate, but it is terrain policymakers must tackle if they want their countries to stay at the forefront of innovation and growth. In Canada, the government created streamlined and expedited migration paths for immigrants with sought-after skills, such as the Canadian Federal Skilled Worker Program.

To attract entrepreneurs, Canada also designed a business immigration category  that aims to entice successful businesspeople who can start new companies and create new jobs in the country. Recognizing that each regions has its unique needs, the government created the Provincial Nominee Program to allow organizations in certain areas to hire migrants. The program facilitates immigration to specific provinces and offers a path to permanent residence in Canada.

The Provincial Nominee Program and special immigration programs are federal options in Canada, as is the Quebec Skilled Worker Program, which “enables highly educated and trained foreign nationals to immigrate to Quebec as skilled workers.” In a similar vein, British Columbia’s Entrepreneur Immigration (EI) Regional Pilot program allows entrepreneurs to establish new businesses in smaller communities in the province. The program seeks to bring people to communities with populations under 75,000 that are located at least 30 kilometers (roughly 19 miles) from an urban core. A program like this in the US could bring jobs to small town America, helping to reverse a decades-long economic decline in these areas by giving young people opportunities in their hometowns.

Fast-Tracking Job Seekers for the Future of Work

In addition to recognizing a general need for skilled workers and regional jobs-growth objectives in the modern economy, Canada engaged in broad-based immigration and work permit reform a few years ago. The country rolled out the Express Entry system to address the need for long-term employees, and it adjusted the rules that apply to temporary workers to streamline the hiring process.

The system ranks potential immigrants on several factors to qualify them for entry into Canada, including education, skills, experience, and English and French language proficiency. The program also allows a fast-track through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program. People in those programs can work while their Express Entry application is under consideration.

Elements of Canada’s immigration reform effort took effect in 2015 as the demand for talent was growing across North America. The US has largely moved in the opposite direction since then, with immigration restrictions increasing the challenges faced by US-based recruiters. With its willingness to embrace the movement of talent across borders, Canada is in a great position to compete, and the US needs to take note.

The future of work won’t be defined by borders and in-office talent. To compete and win in a modern economy, companies will have to mobilize skilled talent quickly and move resources where they’re needed most. American organizations that understand the scale of the challenge can look north for inspiration — and push for similar reform measures in their own country.

Sue Carey, SCRP, SGMS-T, is vice president of corporate relocation at Baird & Warner and 2019 chairman of the Worldwide ERC Board.

By Sue Carey