International

Canada Is Having a Tech Moment – and US Talent is Taking Notice

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Lately the good news for Canada’s technology industry is coming in droves. A highly educated labor force, world-class universities, and a business-friendly government have long made Canada attractive for tech investment. Now Canadian cities are attracting substantial investments in cutting-edge technologies from major global tech companies and are appearing in rankings of the world’s top high-tech locations, raising expectations for tech even higher.

Several Canadian metros are in the conversation as possible sites for one of the tech world’s most highly coveted investments—Amazon’s second North American headquarters. The project has a price tag of more than $5 billion and would create 50,000 high-paying jobs. The economic ripple effect could be enormous, since Amazon’s presence could attract more tech investment, potentially putting Canada among the world’s tech leaders.

What’s more, opposition to the administration south of the border could lead sought-after talent to migrate north. On several recent occasions, political developments spurred US resident interest in moving to Canada, most notoriously when Canada’s immigration site crashed on election night. Tech is one economic sector that could benefit from this heightened interest.

Indeed research shows that US tech workers are more likely than the typical US job seeker to search for a job in Canada. These workers are most interested in tech hubs such as Ottawa or Toronto. For Canada, this represents an opportunity to attract highly skilled talent. Some of the roles most popular with US tech-job seekers are software engineer, database administrator and machine learning engineer.  

Proximity and cultural similarity keep ties between Canada and the US close, and this is apparent in job searches. When US job seekers search in a foreign market, about 12% of their clicks are to Canadian jobs. And the preference for Canada is even more pronounced and growing in tech—Canadian postings account for nearly 30% of all US job seeker’s clicks on tech postings outside the US in the six months ended in May 2017, up from 23% in the same period the previous year.   

The chart shows the total share of clicks on Canadian jobs that come from US job seekers. Although US job seekers account for just under 2% of total Canadian clicks, the nation’s southern neighbor is the largest source of international searches for Canadian jobs. And the US share of international searches for tech jobs is slightly higher.

 

The spikes in these trend lines show how Canada stands to benefit from US tech talent considering a move. The first spike coincides with Election Day 2016. Many commentators chalked up this initial reaction to momentary panic. Nevertheless, a few months to think it over didn’t alleviate many concerns. The week of the presidential inauguration, capped off by the administration’s first executive orders on immigration, prompted a similar spike in US job searches in Canada. The greater size of the tech spikes compared with the spikes for all workers shows how strong the reaction of tech talent to the current administration has been.

Which metro areas are most attractive to US tech workers?

Indeed search data pinpoints which Canadian metros are most appealing to US tech workers. Toronto accounts for 46% of US job seeker clicks on Canadian tech jobs, the highest share of any metro. This is not surprising. Toronto is Canada’s largest city and gets the highest share of US clicks for all jobs, not just tech. The gulf between Toronto and other metros in US tech-job clicks is quite wide. Vancouver comes in a distant second at 15% and Montreal is third at 7%.

The appeal of Canadian destinations to US tech-job seekers is better illustrated if we factor out metro area size. To do that, we compare each metro area’s share of US tech clicks on its share of US clicks for all jobs. Of the top ten most populated metro areas, five receive a higher share of tech clicks than clicks for all jobs, meaning those metro areas are disproportionately popular with US tech-job seekers.


Ottawa is the most appealing metro area for US tech-job seekers. The capital city cemented its status as a tech hub in the 1990s as the host of the research and development headquarters of former communications giant Nortel Networks. More recently, Ottawa was the birthplace of tech narwhal Shopify and a laundry list of other successful startups.   

Toronto and Kitchener are close on this list. This is rightly so because the corridor between these neighboring metros is a cluster of innovation. Both metros are home to universities with computer science programs that rank among the world’s best. The talent churned out by Kitchener’s University of Waterloo has made the metro a startup hub. Blackberry, the one-time leader in handheld communication devices, got its start there. For its part, Canada’s largest city not only has the University of Toronto, one of the world’s top schools, but also a highly educated, diverse workforce attractive to major global tech companies.  

Which Canadian tech roles are of greatest interest to US job seekers?

Some tech job titles attract a disproportionate share of clicks from US job seekers relative to all job seekers, which tells much about the type of US worker interested in moving north for a tech position.

This list demonstrates that the tech talent considering migration to Canada is highly skilled. Some of the titles are common high-  skilled roles in great demand, such as software engineer, java developer and development operations engineer. Others are senior positions, indicating that Canada is attracting seasoned workers. And some US tech job seekers are looking for newer, more specialized positions, like cloud engineer and machine learning engineer.

How much Canada can capitalize on this interest from US tech workers remains to be seen. Regardless, Canada’s tech industry is poised to expand in coming years. An influx of talent or investments from major tech companies like Amazon would simply be more wind in the sails for an industry already on the right course.


Methodology

The metro areas are based upon Census Metropolitan Areas as defined by the Statistics Canada Census Program. Metro areas are used to get a more complete view of a city’s labor market that includes neighborhoods, towns and areas outside of the immediate central business district.

Tech jobs were defined as a group of 158 job titles, classified by Indeed, which are similar to the occupations found in the Standard Occupational Classification categories of “computer occupations” (SOC 15-1000), along with “computer and information systems managers” (SOC 11-3020) and “computer hardware engineers” (SOC 17-2060).

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