Report finds growth in tech jobs since February, Canada still experiencing brain drain

A report from the Innovation Economy Council states that while STEM and technology job numbers have risen since February, nearly a third of computer science graduates are still leaving the country.

Between February and October of 2020 employment in STEM occupations increased by 8.7 percent, representing an additional 98,500 jobs added in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In comparison, the pandemic effectively knocked out nearly three million Canadian jobs total and, while many have returned, there were 270,750 fewer overall jobs in October than February.

“There’s no better place than Toronto, as far as we’re concerned.”

“It’s a positive sign [for the STEM sector] but maybe not for the economy in general,” said Brittany Feor, an economist at the Labour Market Information Council, in the report. “Jobs haven’t come back and the growth isn’t there.”

While the job numbers in STEM were encouraging, the actual postings for STEM positions were down 50 percent in September from the previous year. This is a much greater decline than in non-STEM job postings, which only saw a three percent decrease.

Researchers also found in a review of thousands of LinkedIn profiles that nearly a third of computer science graduates and 25 percent of all STEM graduates leave the country. The report, however, points to positive trends, including technology company clusters in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver, as mechanisms to retain Canadian workers while attracting foreign talent.

“Toronto has been touted as a new Silicon Valley,” said Richard Steiner, head of policy and communications for Gatik, in the report. “It’s not just the talent. The tech ecosystem is thriving. There’s no better place than Toronto, as far as we’re concerned.”

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According to the report, more than one in three college-bound high school students are choosing STEM programs, with enrollment in those programs growing by 16.4 percent between 2014 and 2018. These numbers are bolstered by a nearly 50 percent increase in students entering math and computer science-based programs.

The report also points to programs like the Global Talent Stream, which allows employers to fast-track the entry of highly skilled and high-earning temporary foreign workers, as vital to attracting talent. The program brought in 4,139 people in 2019, while STEM workers accounted for 4.43 percent of all temporary foreign workers operating in Canada. Foreign-born Canadians also accounted for two-thirds of workers with engineering and computer science degrees.

“Everything from when we applied and when we landed made us rethink our notion of Canada as a backup,” said Ketaki Desai, a biomedical scientist originally from India who moved to Toronto in March after failing to receive permanent residency in the United States. “This is a country that really wants us and is showing us in more ways than one, and has welcomed us.”

The report also notes that science and technology jobs make up 34 percent of the current Canadian workforce, up from 28 percent in 2000. At the end of 2018, roughly 1.8 million Canadians worked in the digital economy, and the report cites information from the Communications Technology Council projecting that number to grow to two million by 2023.

The Innovation Economy Council was founded by MaRS Discovery District, Ontario Centre of Innovation (formerly Ontario Centres of Excellence), DMZ, Invest Ottawa, CCRM, Spark Centre, CENGN, NGen, Mitacs and Ontario Genomics, in 2020.

Scott McLean

Scott McLean

Former public affairs professional. Retired amateur comedian. Vegetarian. Journalist.