March 9, 2016

Talent Competition: Cities in Global Tug-of-War

By Leah Wong, Novae Res Urbis

Toronto is considered to be one of the best places in the world to live, recognized for its safety, top post-secondary institutions and business-friendly climate. The city is no longer competing only with its Canadian counterparts but with major cities around the globe to attract new businesses and skilled people.

“It’s become, over the last 20 years, very much a global competition [for talent],” Carleton University’s International Metropolis Project executive head Howard Duncan told the Cities of Migration conference Wednesday. “And it’s not just a competition for countries in the developed West. The competition is now across the world.”

In the past, said Duncan, countries competed for global talent but now the contest is shifting to cities. In future, a country that succeeds in attracting talent will do so because of the attractive qualities of its cities.

“What drives individual decisions about where to move to, are good employment, family, friends and social networks, and high quality physical and economic environments,” said Duncan. “There is an increased willingness on the part of individuals around the world to move and to move more often. When we’re talking about the competition for talent we’re not just talking about attracting people to come to our country or our cities, but to retain them as well.”

One of the benefits of making a city attractive to newcomers is that it also becomes a place that will work for everyone, Maytree founder and chairman Alan Broadbent told participants. He said immigrants want the same qualities in a city as everyone else—good healthcare, affordable housing, parks, schools and employment opportunities.

His view was echoed by Audrey Singer, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “Cities are really important ties for people and develop their identities where they live. Localities trump everything,” Singer told participants. “If you’re moving to Toronto that’s where your identity is going to be shaped, by the institutions and the places around you.”

Singer also said that it is increasingly important for countries such as Canada and the United States to look outside their borders to attract a sophisticated workforce. Both countries face demographic challenges brought on by an aging population and decreasing birth rates. As the first wave of the baby boom cohort now begins to retire, the supply of available labour begins to shrink.

“We’re looking at virtually all of the growth in the U.S. labour force in the next several decades coming from immigrants and their children,” said Singer. “Cities are looking at who are the next generation of workers in their midst and who they can attract, and retain, from other places.”

Many cities, including Toronto, already have a local talent pool of international talent that they can tap thanks to the steady flow of post-secondary students from abroad who choose to study and stay in Canada, aided by a relatively open immigration policy. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the volume of international students studying in Canada grew by 83 per cent between 2008 and 2014. In 2014 there were 336,000 international students enrolled at all levels of study across the country.

Simon Morris-Lange, research deputy head of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, told the conference that international students are considered to be model immigrants because of the education they receive and their experience living in the host country. He said these students are more likely to study in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“These are the type of subjects that employers are really keen on recruiting graduates from,” said Morris-Lange. “This is another reason policy makers should pay attention to this group.”

The linkage between immigrants and foreign investors is obvious in Vancouver, said HQ Vancouver founder and president Yuen Pau Woo, whose company seeks to attract international companies to British Columbia. He said over the past year about 90 per cent of the company’s deals have come from individuals already living in Vancouver.

“These are individuals who have immigrated, typically from China, in the last five to 10 years. They have established their families in the city, bought the big houses and big cars and got the kids in school,” said Woo. “They are looking to align their family interest with their corporate interest… They are looking to find a way to spend more time in Vancouver by moving some of their business interests over.”

This was the third Cities of Migration conference organized by Ryerson University’s Global Diversity Exchange, but the first time the conference was held in Toronto. The 2014 conference was held in Berlin.

Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 20, No. 9, Friday, March 4, 2016.

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