The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Viewpoint : Attract, train, and entice: A new approach to retaining talentViewpoint by Isabelle Hudon

Text signed by Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal,
published in Voir on November 1, 2007.

A new approach to retaining talent

While, throughout Quebec, spotlights are focused on questions of cultural identity and – sometimes clumsily – we highlight our differences, it seems to me we should balance the discussion by remembering the priceless contribution of immigration to Quebec society, and Montréal in particular. Immigrants do much more than meet our direct needs for workers; they bring with them a rare and precious resource, the raw material of the knowledge economy: talent.

I have said it many times: when it comes to the future of our metropolis, talent is what it's all about. A talented society is one that is able to stimulate creativity, generate innovation and, ultimately, attract investment. Subscribing to the theory that talent attracts investment, I firmly believe we must rise to the challenge of attracting, maximizing, and nurturing talent.

The statistics and forecasts make it clear: within just a few years, 100% of net labour force growth will be from immigration. So if we are unable to attract and retain enough talent to meet our needs, there is no point continuing to do things in the same old ways. We must innovate.

This poses an interesting challenge: how do we innovate to attract immigrants? My answer: by developing the stream of international students.

Our academic institutions are already internationally renowned for their exceptional quality. Their reputation is firmly established. In fact, I believe their drawing power is even stronger than we might think – for a very simple reason. While they might first come to Montréal to study, international students often fall under the spell of life in Montréal. So much so that, very often, that enticing first taste leads to a desire to stay.

More specifically, we know that one out of every three international students chooses to remain in Montréal after graduation, even with practically no strategy aiming to accelerate their integration within Quebec society. Those who decide to stay – despite administrative obstacles – do so because they fall in love with our metropolis – for its great quality of life, its diversity, and its exceptional cultural vitality.

In short, our academic institutions – particularly our universities – are the ideal lever for triggering this love affair with Montréal. They allow curious and, above all, talented foreign students to experience life in our metropolis. So why not make the most of this powerful lever? The benefits would be enormous. It would be hard to imagine a better environment than universities for new arrivals to develop social circles and strong networks of contacts. What's more, it's the ideal place to learn French.

The beauty of tapping into the stream of foreign students is that all the pieces of the puzzle are already there. We just have to put them together.

The first step is to harmonize the promotion of studies with efforts to attract immigrants and to present Montréal as both a study and an immigration destination. The second, equally important, step is to encourage students to remain in Montréal after graduation. This means simplifying administration procedures for obtaining permanent resident status and creating programs facilitating the integration of foreign students in the job market, whether through exchanges, traineeships, or business mentoring.

Finally, if we succeed in increasing the supply of talent, there must also be a demand. Companies must be much more present on university campuses, not to sell their products, but to make themselves known and inform future graduates about employment opportunities. In addition to meeting their needs for skilled workers, companies must also share the responsibility for promoting the social and cultural integration of new workers in Montréal society.

For let's not forget: the immense challenge of talent scarcity is everybody's business: without talent, knowledge will be in short supply and investments will dry up!

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