Magazine article Canadian Speeches

How to Stop the Brain Drain That Sucks Canada's Wealth

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

How to Stop the Brain Drain That Sucks Canada's Wealth

Article excerpt

DR. LINDA HARASIM

President and CEO, TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence

Prosperity in the information economy is rooted in the brains that represent a nation's intellectual capital. The flight to the United States of so many Canadian knowledge workers is thus a threat to the economic welfare of all Canadians. Telelearning is one promising way to generate a brain gain and build prosperity by linking learning and knowledge into a pan-Canadian resource. Speech to The Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, March 11, 1999.

I'm delighted to have this opportunity to talk about the work we are doing at the TeleLearning Network Centres of Excellence, and how we feel we can contribute to Canada's competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.

I hope I can communicate my passion for this subject, our sense of capability, but also a sense of urgency, because all of us have something at stake here.

The United Nations has repeatedly ranked Canada number one on its human development index -- a commonly accepted measure of quality of life. And that's wonderful. But at the same time, I'm concerned that we not rest on our laurels.

The roots of prosperity -- the nature of wealth generation itself -- have fundamentally changed. Not only the rules of the game, but the nature of the game itself, has shifted. The whole world is undergoing a revolutionary shift to the knowledge age, in which brainpower will dominate over muscle power. Knowledge workers -- people who are paid to think -- are the backbone of the knowledge economy.

Briefly, knowledge work involves the creation of intellectual property -- using ideas (knowledge and brainpower), rather than muscle, to create value. That's why it's fundamental to develop the attitudes and skills which encourage inventiveness, innovation, analysis, and progressive problem solving.

My remarks today will focus on how we can meet these challenges head-on. How well is Canada positioned to survive and thrive in the knowledge era? Are we investing as quickly, adequately and wisely as we should?

Now, about resting on our laurels. For those of us who are listening, there have been some alarming wake-up calls recently. The OECD has been harshly critical of Canada -- and it's easy to understand why.

Alone among the G-7 countries, our productivity is falling -- not just traditional labour productivity, but what I think of as "inventive productivity." In other words, as an economy and a society, we're not innovative enough. In the OECD's assessment, we're falling down on developing or adapting new technologies. We're not investing in enough new research.

And too many sectors in Canada's economy are resisting change -- the first among them my own, the world of education. We aren't generating enough university graduates -- 17% of the population versus 25% in the United States.

And according to Charles Sirois, a leading entrepreneur and CEO in the fields of telecommunications and information technology, the university graduates we do have aren't necessarily in the "critical disciplines" our economy needs.

In a recent speech to the Canadian Club of Montreal, Mr. Sirois made a passionate case that Canada needs more knowledge workers. He said the lack of skilled resources is the major competitive challenge Canada faces today -- and it's aggravated by a major brain drain, at a time when we need a brain gain.

You aren't imagining that big sucking sound from the south. Forty percent of information technology graduates from our leading school in the field, the University of Waterloo, are scooped away by US companies each year. This is equivalent to a brain hemorrhage, and we have to stop it.

David Crane, who is with us at the head table today, has often issued wake-up calls of his own as economics editor of the Toronto Star.

He would probably agree with Charles Sirois that Canada's most urgent economic priority is to increase drastically the number of high-value knowledge workers who are committed to staying here and to making Canada an ongoing economic success. …

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