Canada’s brain drain under control – but mainly flowing to cities, LinkedIn says

Canada’s brain drain to Silicon Valley has been a perennial concern for the IT sector, but the flow has stabilized, according to LinkedIn Corp., even if it’s arriving at only a handful of destinations.

Large hub cities such as Toronto are the primary beneficiaries of what appear to be significant spikes in tech-based entrepreneurship and software talent, the company’s Talent Buzz 2016 found, and it’s too soon to tell if a Trump presidency will dramatically redirect the current.

In fact, the report found that entrepreneurship was Canada’s top growing job function, with the number of Canadian sole proprietors increasing by 13 per cent this year, followed by businesses with one to 10 employees, which rose 3 per cent.

“It gives the sense that entrepreneurs are on the rise,” LinkedIn global communications director Restivo said of the report, which was based on data from the professional social network’s 12 million-plus Canadian members.

Danielle Restivo, global communications director at LinkedIn
LinkedIn global communications director Danielle Restivo says that Canada’s software industry in particular experienced unprecedented growth this year – but that large cities were the main beneficiaries.

It’s not clear if the jump in small, entrepreneurial ventures can be attributed to the technology sector, she noted, adding that “historically, it has been.” And it’s not just Canada that’s seeing that growth – so is the United Kingdom, despite the uncertainy wrought by Brexit.

“Even in challenging times people are striking out on their own,” Restivo said.

While the U.S. remains the top country for both talent outflow and inflow, the report also discovered an uptick in software talent coming into Canada this year, Restivo said, noting that while such a rise is not something LinkedIn has seen in the past, it’s mainly going to large cities.

One place it has not been going is Canada’s Silicon Valley – Waterloo, Ontario – which should not be a surprise, Restivo noted, given the massive job reductions at BlackBerry Ltd. long seen as the city’s anchor employer.

LinkedIn found that between beginning January 2011 to June 2015, approximately 14,000 LinkedIn users indicated on their profiles that they left BlackBerry and joined other companies, with Apple, Microsoft and Desire2Learn being the top three destinations.

“For a long time, Waterloo was a talent magnet,” Restivo said. There are also fewer startups emerging in that city, she noted.

The report also found that Canada’s venerable telecommunications sector might have reason to worry, as it posted the third-highest rate of decline among the industries studied, after education and oil and energy.

As for what Donald Trump becoming the U.S. president will mean for talent inflow into Canada, Restivo said it’s too early to tell, despite all of the grumblings on social media. And it’s not as easy to come to Canada to work as people think she added, as it requires paperwork and sponsorship. “It could be a slower trend.”

For now, the flow into Canada from south of the border remains the same, but it could change in a few months once Trump has taken office, said Restivo, when LinkedIn does its next quarterly report. “It’s too early at this point,” she said. “We don’t see the numbers.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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