To Become a Global Technology Leader, Canada Must Double Down on Innovation and Diversity

Improved access to specialized talent is critical for the success of Canadian startups

Thalmic employees working in our manufacturing facility in Waterloo.

Since taking office in November, President Trump has shifted the United States’ focus inward — tightening its borders and pursuing “America-first” policies that limit the budget for innovation programs. We’ve seen these shifts come to life in the form of several highly-publicized initiatives:

  1. Plans to scrap the ‘startup visa’ rule that helps foreign entrepreneurs start companies in the U.S.
  2. New rules and criteria for the popular H1-B visa that may make it more difficult for skilled immigrant workers to get jobs in the U.S.
  3. The infamous travel ban which attempted to stop immigration from a number of predominantly muslim countries.
  4. A national budget that proposed deeper cuts to scientific research than any White House in modern history (it was since adjusted by House Republicans).

Here in Canada, we continue to embrace diversity and innovation as core parts of our national identity. We’re a diverse nation — our foreign-born population is the highest among G8 countries. On the innovation front, Trudeau’s government has begun to shown support for the sector, announcing that over the next five years, nearly a billion dollars will go towards technology clusters like the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor (it is still TBD exactly how and where these funds will be focused), and appointing a Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Just this month we saw the rollout of the Global Skills Strategy program (something I’ve been advocating for for a long time).

This stark contrast is a boon for Canadian companies like ours who rely on highly-skilled workers. If I put myself in the shoes of a candidate from a foreign country, Canada increasingly looks like an appealing option. And that’s what we’re betting on.

By rolling out the red carpet for specialized talent, we can bring in the expertise we need to continue to grow Canadian companies. With Canada poised to join the ranks of global technology leaders, we couldn’t hope to send a better message to the world.

Thalmic employees at work

Bringing Global Skills to Canada

The Global Skills Strategy initiative I mentioned before is a key part of that message. The new program drastically cuts down the time it takes for high-growth companies to hire specialized workers from around the world. The process, which used to take up to 10 months, is now mandated to take two weeks for approvals.

The premise of the program is that easier access to specialized and technical talent will help companies here grow, leading to more jobs for Canadians. The reduced time difference is critical for both companies looking to hire quickly and candidates looking for their next opportunity. However, it’s not just about jobs. Bringing in international talent comes with a wide range of benefits:

  • Skills transfer: When we surround engineers and scientists with highly-skilled international talent, we enable the transfer of skills between these two groups. This is especially beneficial for younger Canadians entering the workforce that can benefit from more access to experienced mentors.
  • Improved diversity: Diverse teams perform better. By hiring specialists from anywhere in the world, we can bring in a diversity of minds, genders, cultures, backgrounds and expertise that helps Canadian companies build better products and teams.
  • Retaining top performers: The best employees want to be surrounded by great minds so they can collaborate and work together. By attracting talented people from around the world to come here, more of Canada’s best minds will stay in the country. This empowers companies like Thalmic to create the critical mass of knowledge and expertise needed to compete globally.
A Thalmic employee in our manufacturing facility in Waterloo

The Need for Extraordinary Talent

Thalmic has grown quickly over the past year. With that growth, we’ve focused on finding the right people to join our team, even if it means leaving positions empty. The challenge is that companies like ours need to find highly-specialized people across various fields, and that isn’t always available locally. To succeed, we need access to talent both from Canada and countries around the world. We need mathematicians, software engineers, data scientists — people who excel in their fields, regardless of where they are from.

In part thanks to recent policies, I believe Canadian growth-stage companies are now in a position where they can secure the talent they need. Here at Thalmic we’ve completed applications for two machine learning engineers, one from Iran and one from Pakistan, both with PhDs. We’ve already received positive Labor Market Impact Assessments (LMIA) for both of these applications (within the two-week standard) and have a third application in progress for a specialized electrical engineer from Israel. From here, we’ll be continuing to hire quickly based on the types of roles we need to hire.

Our Chance

If we continue to be a country that puts both diversity and innovation front-and-center, we can bolster our talent pool with ambitious, talented minds from around the world. This in turn will help Thalmic and companies like it to grow, empowering Canada join the ranks of global technology leaders.