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Elio Luongo is CEO and senior partner, KPMG in Canada

The global economy is going through a profound transformation.

Game-changing technology is driving the digital era, causing many industries to reshape and reform. Real-world applications of artificial intelligence, AR/VR and machine learning are disrupting everything from how we shop, how we manufacture, even to how we mine.

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It is also radically redefining how we work and what skills are needed – and these new and increasingly specialized skill sets are in chronic short supply.

While our colleges and universities are doing a good job producing much needed graduates in fields such as robotics, data and analytics, blockchain and AI, they simply can’t keep up with the growth in demand.

This growing skill gap is a drag on business and a drag on economic growth. Organizations around the world are being forced to look beyond their borders to attract workers to propel their businesses forward. But at a time when many countries are turning inward and tightening their borders, it is getting increasingly difficult to do so.

On this front, Canada’s approach to attracting workers with these in-demand skills stands out.

Our current immigration system was built on the belief that improving the entry of in-demand foreign workers would help employers scale up, boost revenues and ultimately create new jobs for Canadians.

This model has worked well and, as we saw recently, the OECD called Canada’s system the benchmark for other countries, noting we lead the OECD with the highest share of highly educated foreign-born entrants. In particular, it praised Canada’s immigration system for the way it chooses which workers to admit as well as its pre- and post-arrival supports.

But Canada could do even more to protect and leverage our advantage in attracting the world's brightest and best workers. In addition to the strength of our immigration processes, we also have a global reputation for being a welcome place for newcomers.

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Business leaders need to stand up for and embrace the continued importance of immigration to the Canadian economy and society.

Canada’s strength as a country – present, past and future – is directly tied to attracting and embracing newcomers. Immigration powers our economy and makes our society one of the most desired in the world. With a rapidly aging population, immigration is more important than ever.

As the child of immigrants myself, I know the journey can be rocky at times – change always is – but I also understand what Canada means to immigrants, and what immigrants mean to this country. Like most newcomers, my parents were extremely grateful for the opportunities Canada provided and worked hard to ensure I understood how lucky I was to have this chance.

We need to be clear with businesses that are searching for much needed high-skill workers that the answer is Canada.

We already have many of the key components needed to attract high-tech businesses, such as high quality of life, solid infrastructure, low corporate tax rates and significant tax benefits for research and development activities.

Our tech super clusters also provide opportunities to partner with Canadian academic and research institutions to develop ideas and talent.

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KPMG has been working with a number of organizations, particularly in the technology industry, that are looking to expand their operations and are beginning to recognize that Canada’s progressive immigration system can help address their talent challenges.

The key questions we ask each organization include:

  • Is your organization able to access foreign talent fast enough and with certainty to meet your current business needs and growth objectives?
  • Do foreign nationals working at your operations feel confident that they can obtain permanent residence status in a reasonable period of time for themselves and their families to remain long term?
  • Does the foreign talent pool that you are seeking to recruit feel comfortable that they will be welcomed as foreign workers and future immigrants in the countries you are based?

For many, the answer to all these questions is “no” when looking anywhere else but Canada.

With our reputation for openness and building on our history, Canada has an immense opportunity to expand our digital economy by building on our talent advantage – to attract the world’s best people and companies.

Doing so will drive innovation, create more high-quality jobs and reverse the brain drain.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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