The Role of Talent Migration in the Future of Our Economy

Access to global talent flow is becoming more imperative for employers as disruptive technologies redefine our future workforce. As AI, automation and robotics make way for a more globally connected marketplace, we must draw from a talent pool of the same breadth to not only fill emerging job positions, but to lead and manage our existing workforce through innovation and alternative systems thinking. However, restrictions in labor mobility and immigration, as well as the current state of skills and awareness among Canadians leaders necessary for effective hiring, may impede our ability to do so.

I have written before about the role that disruptive technologies are playing in the dramatic paradigm shift of our labor markets. In 2018, the World Economic Forum published a Future of Jobs report that suggested by 2025, machines would perform 71% of tasks fulfilled by the current labor force. It calls into question the relative value of skills of employees and the importance of upskilling. Nearly three years has passed since this report was published and already we are seeing substantial shift and uptake in task based models toward automation.

As has been the case throughout economic history, when existing jobs are augmented by technology, we can expect entirely new jobs to be created. In the same report, the World Economic Forum identified that over the next decade, 58 million new net jobs would be created in newly emerging fields. The research uncovers that “increased demand for new roles will offset the decreasing demand for others.”

While these net job gains foreshadow a bright future, if employers are unable to transition millions of workers into these new roles, skills gaps may prevent businesses from properly adopting these innovative technologies. There will be a greater need than ever to invest in the development of a capable workforce; a limited talent pool is counterproductive to that development.

Business and countries must recognize the overwhelming role that global talent has played in innovation to date. We must recognize that in our global marketplace and within an economic landscape so effectively supported by technology, global migration of talent will be a critical factor in shaping our businesses, our societies and our economies. In fact, I believe it may be the missing ingredient in our transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In his book The Gift of Global Talent, Bill Kerr identifies that 31% of Nobel Laureates from 1900 – 2016 were Global Migrants of which 51% settled in the United States. He identifies that from world renowned musicians, to dental hygienists, global talent is what drives innovation with 1 in 3.5 inventions created by global talent within the US market. In 2016, 40% of PHDs awarded in the United States were earned by global talent.

Businesses will need to consider HR investment as an asset rather than a liability. There is a virtuous cycle between upskilling and technological innovation. A recent McKinsey report established that over 87% Executives in more than 50 countries were already experiencing a skills gap relative to new technologies. Major employers must consider talent management, the merit of upskilling and the benefits of corporate culture in the role of hiring and employment retention to be competitive.

By embracing the decentralized workforce, businesses and countries stand to benefit. There is evidence that people are looking to services like Zoom as an enabler for relocation, complementing the global movement. New patterns of high skilled migration are going to evolve as people look to save money on living costs in major urban centres and seek to invest in a greater standard of living. Companies that are able to embrace the distributed workforce will benefit.

Countries will need to slash red tape and minimize barriers for global talent entry. In their paper Global Talent Flows authors Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, Çağlar Özden, and Christopher Parsons wrote “The most successful individuals, employers and countries will be those that discern how to best navigate the current global labor markets and sidestep the government-imposed limitations on high-skilled immigration.” Yet our current immigration policies make entry challenging, costly and often fail to recognize skills and talent in the first place.

In 2017 the Government of Canada introduced a new Global Skills Strategy that features faster application processing times, work permit exemptions and enhanced customer service. While this is a step in the right direction, Canada could be a leader in capturing inflows of exceptional global talent with improved policy and substantiated awareness. The Global Talent Competitiveness Index analyses which countries are best at recruiting high-skilled migrants. Currently, Canada sits at number 13 as a major attractor relative to other countries, but falls short in our awareness of Global Knowledge and our ability to enable access.

Economies around the world are experiencing a dramatic paradigm shift in the wake of disruptive technologies. Those that are embracing the change and anticipating the opportunities that will be generated for the future labor market, may become leaders in the global talent race. In 2020, GTCI identified (Reference 10) that the introduction of AI in particular may dramatically change these statistics.

The GTCI’s longitudinal analyses highlight that—even if it is the exception rather than the rule—some developing countries (e.g., China, Costa Rica, and Malaysia) can become talent champions in their respective regions, while others (e.g., Ghana and India) have significantly improved their capacity to enable, attract, grow, and retain talent over the past few years, and hence can be labelled talent movers. As India did in the late 1990s (becoming a global offshoring base for IT services), AI may provide opportunities for other countries/regions (e.g., Latin America) to become ‘global delivery centres’ for AI applications.

There is a quiet race for global talent that I believe is about to get much louder. It’s time for our businesses and our Government to look to the future of our labor market in an Age of Disruption.

We have the chance to remain a global innovator and a champion of global talent but is Canada prepared to be a frontline contender?

You might like this