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June 25, 2015

Building an internationally-saavy talent pool

Across much of our research with both large incumbent firms and fast growth startups, the demand for talent, especially management talent, that has international experience gained through direct exposure is significant.

The question that follows is how do you help firms fill this gap. You can either help attract that talent from abroad or develop it at home.

On the former, Canada’s StartUp Visa is meant to attract entrepeneurs with validated ideas, not top tier management talent. The Express Entry immigration program is more aligned, and notwithstanding a significant backlog in application processes, allocates high scores to this type of talent. But in both cases, Canada’s ability to attract top management talent is complicated by similar programs across other jurisdictions. Moves in the UK to develop a “Scale-Up Visa” to be processed in two-weeks as a means of facilitating the recruitment of high-end talent for high-growth firms is a sign of what’s to come.

Developing more well-rounded talent at home has to be a priority for employers, policy makers and academic institutions alike. However as I’ve written before, Canadian undergraduate students are at the bottom of the list when it comes to overseas experience. Building international exposure into curriculum is a necessity, not a choice for today’s students. Our current stats (just 3% of undergrads go abroad) indicates a real failure on this metric of future success.

So how do you change it? And change it meaningfully?

The National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Overseas College program offers an interesting model. The program offers 150 students a year the opportunity to go abroad not just to study but rather to work and study in a leading entrepreneurial hub. The NUS has agreements with institutions in in Silicon Valley, New York, Beijing, Shanghai, Stockholm and Israel. These partners source internship opportunities for visiting students. Students then spend up to 12 months working in those markets before returning home to finish their studies. As the NUS notes, “the aim is to cultivate and nurture them into enterprising, resourceful, independent self-starters and eventually blossom into successful entrepreneurs.”

The program is part of a general mission at the NUS to get students to go abroad. As of 2015, over 70% of students go abroad.[1] 70% !!  The follow-on results are not to be discounted: 200 startups created by the programs 1,700 alumni, half of which are active according to a recent Re/Code article.

This type of programming should serve as the model for institutions across Canada, and for innovation ecosystems like Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Nova Scotia and Vancouver that can be the partners to build reciprocal agreements. This won’t solve the need for immediate talent, but it will atleast start improving the pipeline of talent that is making its way into firms of all sizes.



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