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Guide to Education

U.S. recruiters invading Canadian campuses

Job fairs are now must-attend events for U.S. firms in
order to snatch up this country's top university grads

Monday, March 5, 2001

It isn't exactly a re-enactment of the War of 1812, but in terms of economic impact, it may come close. U.S. forces are indeed invading Canada again.

This time it is not regiments of infantry in blue coats but platoons of corporate recruiters in blue suits. Their goal is to snatch up the best and brightest among Canada's university graduating classes and carry them back south of the border.

"Yes, I guess you could say there is a war going on out there," says Michael Bloom, associate director at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa.

"The aim is to capture as many of the best graduates in certain fields and take them home for your own benefit. The numbers are quite dramatic."

Conference Board estimates show that the numbers of Canadians moving south each year have about tripled to 100,000 people a year in the past three years, he says. "That includes graduates; we don't break them out specifically."

Other signs of the campus recruiting invasion come from on-campus job fairs, which have suddenly become must-attend events for U.S. corporate recruiters.

"U.S. companies now represent up to 15 per cent of the total companies attending the two job fairs we stage each year," says Jan Basso, director of co-operative education and career services at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "Three years ago their presence was negligible."

The most recent February job fair, a joint effort by Laurier, the University of Waterloo, the University of Guelph and Conestoga College, drew a total of 209 companies, 35 of them U.S. based.

"There are big international corporations like Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems and IBM, which recruit for their operations here and abroad, but there are also a growing number that aim at drawing recruits back to the United States," she says.

At prestige graduate schools like the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, the competition to snap up graduates is growing both in scale and intensity, says dean Roger Martin.

"Many corporations recognize that if they do business globally, they have to recruit globally and to do that they target the best schools. They recognize us as one of the key management schools in North America."

Like most wars, this battle for the skills and knowledge -- if not the hearts and minds -- of young Canadians is based on simple economic principles, Bloom points out. In globalized markets, developed countries like the 29 members countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, depend on an ever increasing population of skilled and knowledgeable workers to fuel national economic expansion.

"They can't compete with less developed countries in producing low-cost goods, so they have to compete with each other in creating more and better value-added goods and services," he says.

"That means turning out their own army of highly educated graduates or gobbling up those produced by other countries."

That's the demand side. At the same time, simple demographics are reducing industrialized countries' chances of meeting demand with home-grown talent.
That's the demand side. At the same time, simple demographics are reducing industrialized countries' chances of meeting demand with home-grown talent.

"Simply put, the baby boomers and the succeeding generation didn't have as many children as their parents. The supply just can't meet the demand."

To date, the demand from U.S. recruiters has been in a trio of specific areas, says Daniel Ondrack, professor of management at U of T's Rotman School: Law, computer sciences and MBA grads.

"I joke that the reason is because of our lower dollar. Canadian MBA graduates leave school with less of a debt load and, as a result, have lower pay expectations than U.S. grads," he says.

"The truth, however is that the quality of graduates, the quality of their education is very, very good."

Quality aside, it is a fact that U.S. companies get more for their money with Canadian graduates. "They can offer one of our top MBA students -- maybe one of the 20 law MBA graduates -- $150,000 (U.S.) to go work in Boston or New York, where they would have to offer $200,000 to a Harvard graduate," he says.

"Our students are probably not aware of what top U.S. graduates are getting and $150,000 sounds like a great starting package -- and, of course it is. At the same time, however, the U.S. employer saves $50,000."

Basso at Sir Wilfrid Laurier agrees that it is the high-tech and financial services industries that are doing most of the poaching at Canadian campuses. She also agrees that being paid in U.S. dollars with that hefty 50-per-cent premium is an awfully attractive lure. But money is not the sole appeal, she says.

"Many graduates just want a chance to travel and work for a while in a different country.

"Most of the ones I have talked to say it is not permanent. They plan to eventually come home to work."

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