The federal government has taken a crucial step towards making it possible to grow and sustain an innovation company in Canada. The recently launched Global Talent Stream will expedite the immigration process for highly skilled workers. With Canada’s fast-growing tech sector facing a shortage of 220,000 workers by 2020, this initiative arrived not a moment too soon.
As one of the CEOs from across the country who called on Ottawa to streamline the immigration process, I see the new system as a welcome and much-needed change. Canadian high-growth tech companies like Igloo, headquartered here in Kitchener, must be able to quickly access specialized talent both inside and outside our borders.
On average, it’s taken between 10 and 12 months for qualified, highly skilled people to receive work permits in Canada. With the launch of the Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program—part of the federal government’s Global Skills Strategy—that time will now be reduced to just two weeks.
The revamped process is a game-changer for companies like mine, Igloo Software. We were named to Deloitte’s 2015 and 2016 Fast 500, recognizing us as one of the fastest growing public and private technology companies in North America. To help us scale up globally and contribute in a meaningful way to Canada’s innovation economy, we need to fill our ranks with the brightest minds—wherever in the world they might be.
Igloo builds cutting-edge digital workplace solutions to help companies improve communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and employee engagement—the keys to driving productivity and innovation. The people at Igloo are our greatest assets, providing the skills and ideas that continually propel the company to new heights.
The Global Talent Stream targets two types of talent that high-growth companies need: highly skilled and unique. Highly skilled workers, like Igloo’s Senior Product Designers, Software Engineers, and Digital Architects, help companies achieve their targets, grow, and respond to market demand. Unique workers include those with a skill set unmatched by industry standards—executives across marketing, IT, operations and product strategy—who can use their unique, sector-based experience to transform million-dollar companies into billion-dollar companies.
Now that we have a faster, more predictable immigration process at the federal level, provincial governments would also be wise to review their immigration practices. This would ensure that people joining their workforce every year as part of the Provincial Nominee programs are helping to grow the emerging sectors of each province.
I started Igloo in Canada and I want to keep it in Canada. But tech companies can easily be uprooted and moved if our access to talent, capital, and customers is limited or blocked by unhelpful policies. Unlike the traditional industries of the old economy, we’re far less tied down to our geographic surroundings.
Today’s tech companies can exist anywhere, provided there is access to highly skilled people who can create growth. Everything hinges on key talent. We create value from the products and services we commercialize from ideas—ideas generated by skilled workers. When the right people are in place, companies attract both risk capital and customers.
With this reality in mind, governments must find ways to make it attractive to grow a 21st-century tech firm in Canada, and the recent changes to the immigration system are a good start. Being able to quickly attract the best and brightest minds to Canada—above and beyond the ones that already live here—is one way the federal government has listened to the needs of CEOs who are choosing to grow their companies here.
On the other hand, governments should also develop strategies to reverse Canada’s brain drain: the movement of highly skilled and educated workers to the United States. This ongoing trend shrinks our talent pool and makes it hard to compete with large firms.
Pragmatic policies like the Global Talent Stream are essential to helping Canada reach its full potential as an innovation nation. To drive discovery, create more good jobs, and generate wealth within our borders, our best companies must draw from a talent pool that has no borders.
Dan Latendre is the CEO of Igloo.