Across the country, thousands of engineers with decades of experience are about to retire en masse. Engineers, whom we celebrate 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 due to both 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 new kinds of engineers — those with advanced degrees.
We urgently need knowledgeable and innovative engineering leaders not only to maintain and improve our essential systems — including health care, infrastructure and energy production — but also to become an engine of economic prosperity and to enhance our global competitiveness through accelerated research, development and entrepreneurship.
In September 2015 Justin Trudeau sounded the alarm about stagnating research and development of 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 from biotechnology and robotics to telecommunications and sustainable energy — these industries are driving our new innovation economy, and 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.
More than half of Canadian Business’s Best Jobs of 2016 demand engineering or advanced science degrees. But 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 Canadian graduate engineering programs, and then connect those alumni with industry. The Canadian Graduate Engineering Consortium, or 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 — these are the creative, adaptive and accomplished engineers uniquely equipped to drive our knowledge-based economy forward.
Together as CGEC, we call upon Canadian industry leaders to capitalize on the exceptional training and experience of our engineering postgraduate-degree holders by hiring them, keeping them here to drive Canada’s economic engine forward.
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 - Dean, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto
Fraser Forbes - Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Alberta
Jim Nicell - Dean, Faculty of Engineering, McGill University
Marc Parlange - Dean, Faculty of Applied Science, University of British Columbia
Pearl Sullivan - Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Waterloo
This op-ed was originally published by Policy Options on March 16, 2017.