Seniors now outnumber children in Canada. That’s a problem for engineering.
Across the country, thousands of engineers with decades of experience are about to retire en masse. Engineers, who we are celebrating this National Engineering Month, design the bridges you drive over every day on your way to work. They invent new mobile devices that transform our daily lives. And they develop new technologies to improve cancer treatments, generate carbon-neutral power, and provide clean drinking water to remote communities both at home and abroad. Engineers are solving the world’s most pressing problems, designing large-scale solutions to incredibly complex challenges.
But we now face a crisis: Canada will be short 100,000 engineers in the next decade as a result of retirements and growth, according to Engineers Canada, the national umbrella organization for the profession’s regulatory bodies.
To keep our economic engine running in the face of this imminent shortfall, Canadian industry needs the specialized knowledge and skills of a new kind of engineer — those with advanced degrees.
We urgently need knowledgeable and innovative engineering leaders not only to maintain and improve our essential systems — health care, infrastructure and energy production, for example — but also to become an engine of economic prosperity and to enhance our global competitiveness through accelerated research, development and entrepreneurship.
In September 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sounded the alarm about stagnating R&D in home-grown technologies and entrepreneurship. “The global economy is increasingly competitive,” he said. “New technologies are disrupting old economic models and emerging economies are taking an ever-growing share of the global marketplace. This poses challenges to Canada, but it also, of course, offers new opportunities.”
Canadian companies are global leaders in fields such as biotechnology, robotics, telecommunications and sustainable energy. These industries are driving our new innovation economy, and they all rely on highly educated engineers with advanced knowledge in their fields. Research from the Conference Board of Canada shows that hiring graduates with advanced degrees leads to better business outcomes, arising from improved research and development programs. Yet we see many top graduate students recruited away to positions in Silicon Valley, Boston or Shanghai — markets that are eager to leverage the specialized education of graduate-level engineering degree holders.
There’s a huge opportunity here for Canadian industry. More than half of Canadian Business’s Best Jobs of 2016 demand engineering or advanced science degrees. Postgraduate-degree holders have an added edge: they have applied their engineering education to innovate within a specific field. By bringing leading-edge ideas and experience from the lab to the marketplace, Canada’s most vital industries can stay ahead of the increasingly strong global competition.
Canadian universities are world-renowned for their engineering programs: the best and brightest students from across this country and around the world have access to top-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs in every discipline. To capitalize on this critical mass of excellence, five leading schools have been working together since 2013 to attract the brightest minds from across Canada and around the world to our graduate engineering programs, and then to connect those alumni with industry. The Canadian Graduate Engineering Consortium (CGEC) unites the universities of Alberta, British Columbia, McGill, Toronto and Waterloo.
In 2015, Canadian engineering schools conferred more than 7,600 master’s and PhD degrees — the holders of these degrees are creative, adaptive and accomplished engineers who are uniquely equipped to drive our knowledge-based economy forward. With their advanced skills and training, these graduates are ready to step into jobs vacated by retirees and prevent this impending engineering shortfall.
Together, as representatives of the universities that make up the CGEC, we call upon Canadian industry leaders to capitalize on the exceptional training and experience of our engineering postgraduate-degree holders by hiring them and keeping them here, so they can help drive Canada’s economic engine forward. The most recent federal budget allocated billions to spark innovation and support Canadian industries from genomics to renewable energy, but provincial and federal policymakers can further incentivize industry through tax policy that encourages the hiring of Canadian-trained graduate engineering students.
There has never been a more important time to invest in tomorrow’s engineering leaders. Canada’s ability to compete globally depends on our willingness to harness the top-tier engineering talent that will power economic growth in the years to come.
Cristina Amon is Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto, Fraser Forbes is Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta, Jim Nicell is Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at McGill University, Marc Parlange is Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia, and Pearl Sullivan is Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo.