Perhaps there were no greater words spoken at this year’s Collision Conference, Canada’s biggest tech conference, then that of Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, who had the following words of support for Canada’s tech sector, “We are in a global race for the same pool of talent with competitors around the entire world. Now in my view, Canada is winning that race and we might be winning it, but I think we can win it by an even larger margin. So, today we are unveiling our new strategy to attract some of the most talented tech professionals from all over the world to come to Canada. Now, I have been given only a few minutes to share six new and improved ideas and folks fasten your seat belts because this is a big deal.” The rest of Minister Fraser’s presentation would see him mention three improvements to existing immigration programs and three brand new programs, and they were attempts to help Canada stay competitive in the digital age.
- A dedicated pathway for permanent residency that is specifically available to employees and workers in STEM sectors.
- Revamping the Global Skills Strategy program, launched five years ago and extremely successful in bringing talented people to Canada, but hampered by pandemic processing delays. Revamping resulted in speeding up processing requests so that new work permit applications would get processed in two weeks.
- Revamping the Startup Visa Program, a pathway for permanent residency for entrepreneurs who create companies who will hire Canadians but was plagued by more applications than spaces available. Revamping resulted in programs spaces increasing from 1,000 spaces to 3,500 spaces and applications would get prioritized based on features of the applications like whether a company has capital committed or whether it has received an endorsement from a trusted partner. Better yet, for those in queue, the program would allow for the issuance of open work permits for applicants and their families so that families would not be separated while they waited for their applications to be completed.
- Canada will be introducing a specific stream for some of the world’s most highly talented people that will be able to come to work for tech companies whether they have a job offer or not.
- Canada will be launching a digital Nomad strategy which is going to allow people who have a foreign employer to come work in Canada for up to six months, and if they receive a job offer while they are in Canada then they will be allowed to stay and work in Canada.
- Canada will create a designated stream that will allow 10,000 H-1B visa holders in the US to come and work in Canada, to create a pipeline for talent to flow into Canada thus taking advantage of tech layoffs across the US.
Bringing in talent to stay competitive globally.
For such a large country, Canada has quite a small population, but in today’s globalized world, population is power. The global landscape for tech talent is such that many countries do not produce enough talent through their educational pipelines and the only way to make up for that is through bringing talent into a country from overseas. One of the countries that is likely best positioned for the digital age is China because their long-term advantage over the rest of the world is that it is reported that 40% of China’s eight million annual college graduates major in engineering, which is more that the engineering graduates of the US, Europe, India, and Japan combined. This abundance of tech talent would almost guarantee that China would be better positioned to experience economic success in the digital era.
What Canada has going for it that other places do not is that people are free to live their best lives and be whatever they want to be, and our shared values are major drivers as to why organizations want to do business in Canada. Now, imagine if all of the world’s biggest companies knew that there was an abundance of talent that they could hire from, then how much more enticing the idea of doing business in Canada becomes.
Talent is in abundance. Opportunity is scarce.
Our world is full of talented individuals who are full of potential, but most of these talented individuals never get to make the most out of their potential because there is an absence of opportunities where they are located. The scope of talent is such that it can be found scattered throughout the jungles of South America, the clay mines of Africa, the rice fields of Asia, the steppes of Europe, and even in the Middle East in places ravaged by war and famine. What all these places represent is a dire situation, one where dreams and hopes are shattered by the reality of plaguing insecurities and that tomorrow might give way to a “worse today”.
Perhaps the greatest example of unleashing potential might be the story of Philip Emeagwali, a Nigerian computer scientist whose humble beginnings start in a rural community and whose subsequent life would meet obstacles that would have sidetracked the best of us. But Emeagwali persevered, and when given the opportunity to make the most out of his potential, he did just that.
Born in 1954, Emeagwali was the oldest of nine children, and was nicknamed “Calculus” by his community thanks to his natural inclination for math. Just as Emeagwali’s high school studies were supposed to begin, civil war erupted across Nigeria in 1967 and it resulted in Emeagwali getting drafted into the army as a teenager. By today’s standard, Emeagwali would be viewed as a child soldier, but he and his family managed to survive the war, spending time in refugee camps until the war ended in 1970.
All of the circumstances that Emeagwali was faced with would indicate that he was destined to live a life of poverty. After the war, however, Emeagwali was adamant about wanting to complete the rest of his studies. Initially, Emeagwali enrolled at a school that required him to walk two hours to and from school each day, but it was financial struggles that forced him to drop out of school, not the distance he had to travel. Emeagwali decided to continue his studies through self-studying, eventually taking a high school equivalency exam administered by the University of London to earn his high school diploma. As fate would have it, Emeagwali’s educational efforts would pay off after he earned a scholarship to attend college in the US.
In the US, Emeagwali first earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, then a master’s degree in ocean and marine engineering, and a second master’s degree in applied mathematics. Just as Emeagwali was accepted into a civil engineering program to receive his doctoral degree, the US government and many in academia proclaimed that there were 20 grand challenges that faced the world in the area of science and engineering, and one of those challenges was simulating oil flows for more efficient oil extraction. This challenge inspired Emeagwali to start experimenting with combining computers for “supercomputing” purposes and he came up with a formula that showed that it was more efficient to combine a greater number of less expensive smaller-powered microprocessors than it was to combine a smaller number of more expensive higher-powered processors. When Emeagwali ran his program, with the help of 65,536 microprocessors, the machine was able to carry out 1.3 billion calculations per second and correctly predict the amount of oil in a simulated reservoir.
This groundbreaking approach to “supercomputing” paved the way for other scientists to build upon the “supercomputing” idea to allow for computers to carry out more complex functions. In 1989, Emeagwali won the Gordon Bell Prize, which is the Nobel Prize of computing, but the craziest thing about Emeagwali’s idea was that it was inspired by three things: a 1922 science fiction article that suggested that 64,000 mathematicians should do weather forecasting for the world, an old analogy that suggested that a large number of chickens that were coordinated in strength and efficiency could do a better job than a small number of oxen, and the honeycomb principles of design that bees use.
What made Philip Emeagwali so special was his talent, and talent can be found in people around the world. Emeagwali’s story is an example of why we need to operate with people’s circumstances in mind, and talent seems to be reflective of our society as talent should be seen as being multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious and it can be found across countless other lines of difference. That is also why it is important for international programs to bridge into most remote regions of the world, so that if there are people that want to take on the bold challenge of making the most out of their potential then they can be afforded that opportunity. Giants starts small, like just like Philip Emeagwali did, sometimes they need a little help to start growing and to be all that they can be.