Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 13, 2018 – Vancouver, BC

From: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Hosted by Arvind Gupta
Area of Focus: Immigration

Highlights of Discussion

The digital economy is growing faster than the any other area of the economy. However, Canadian universities and colleges can only provide half of the workforce necessary to keep up. Immigrants can play a crucial role in bridging this gap and many are ably equipped to do so. While only one-fifth of Canadians have training in STEM fields, half of all immigrants to Canada have a background in STEM. Although there are many pathways for immigrants to join the Canadian workforce, we can do more to recruit and retain future Canadians and maintain our competitive edge as we continue to grow the middle class.

Many avenues are available to bring in new talent from abroad such as through the Federal Skilled Worker program and because Canada is one of the top countries for international students to study. However, immigrants face further barriers to entry. For example, many tech sector employers are hiring are through pre-existing networks – this is a rather daunting obstacle for a new Canadian.

Canada is a country of immense and varied assets. Given our abundance of natural resources and proven digital media creativity, we have an opportunity to apply a digital and data-driven focus in becoming leaders in these and many other areas. As the world and Canada rushes towards building a digital economy we must be cognisant to bring these new opportunities to all Canadians.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

On the job training is equally important
The United States provides more training (and retraining) after hiring; American corporations spend a lot more resources on training employees.
Alternate forms of education/retraining/upskilling and diverse views are needed in the digital economy
Universities and colleges are not accessible to everyone and tech sector skills can be learned in alternate environments beyond the formal education route.  Also, students from other fields (i.e., political science, arts, philosophy) bring required skills and valuable perspectives to the industry.
Focused recruitment of international students should be considered
Canada should be strategically targeting international students from countries where we stand a better chance of attracting them to stay following their education.
Digital literacy and innovation needs to be an underlying theme in the education system starting with the very young
Presenting career possibilities in the digital economy early in life excites the mind to those options later on. Also support for basic research is an important pre-cursor for future innovation.     


Improving awareness and access to available supports
There are many laudable programs that support the digital economy (e.g., IRAP, MITACS, SIF). The government could improve on the promotion of these programs and highlight that these are also available to all businesses including those international firms opening up satellite offices.
Improving awareness and access to a skilled immigrant workforce
Employers would also benefit in becoming more knowledgeable in the availability of a competent and less-tapped potential workforce and the programs and grants available to them for hiring new Canadians. A program that efficiently matched employers and immigrants with relevant competencies could aid in quicker uptake. Moreover, improving the ability to consistently evaluate and better understand foreign work experience could help employers confidently hire skilled immigrants.
Canada is an attractive destination for investment
Canada should also be marketed (similarly to Israel) as a destination to do business/research and development for our lower costs, political stability, and reputation for protecting IP. Also, to avoid Canada becoming a digital service industry (versus a leader), one needs to be able to attract anchor companies with intellectual property.
Helping Canadian trained international students stay
A challenge for Canada is to retain these international students following the completion of their studies. Possible retention options include supporting employment opportunities for them similar to co-op, funding their business ideas, and providing them with a pathway to immigration/permanent residency.
Skilled immigrants entering Canada also face many barriers
While co-op university programs are extremely effective in providing about-to-graduate students with work experience, these programs (and the accompanying governmental funding) also tilt the preference of companies towards hiring junior, more inexperienced employees. As well, establishing robust referral networks and improving mentorship programs could greatly aid new Canadians in tapping into the vast informal hiring ecosystem. 
Maximising the full potential of immigrants
Immigrants are often faced with being over-qualified for entry-level positions, lacking the governmental support/funding to allow for businesses to take the chance to try out a potential candidate with little risk, and not having any local Canadian work experience. The dearth of upskilling/work experience assistance combined with the financial realities of supporting oneself/family in a new country have driven many towards abandoning their field of expertise for which they were originally admitted into Canada towards a more generic (and often lower paying) job in the service industry/retail.
Co-op placements and grants for skilled immigrants
Canada could consider providing opportunities for immigrants similar to student co-op programs where employers would be encouraged to hire an immigrant and these new Canadians could gain valuable work experience in a Canadian setting. 

Attendee List

  1. BC Tech Association
  2. DigiBC
  3. Immigrant Employment Council of BC
  4. Microsoft Vancouver
  5. Electronic Arts
  6. MDA Corporation
  8. Lighthouse Labs
  9. Magnify Digital
  10. Capilano University
  11. Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences
  12. Langara College
  13. STEMCELL Technologies
  14. 1QB Information Technologies
  15. InterAxon
  16. Virtro
  17. Microsemi
  18. Immigrant Services Society of BC