- Talent Management
In June, the Canadian government announced in a cheery video message that it was recruiting top researchers from around the world. Their recruitment drive was well timed. In June, Canada was about to kick off a series of high-profile celebrations to market its 150th anniversary. However, many onlookers have suggested that the government’s announcement of the Canada 150 Research Chair Program is simply an attempt to use political turmoil in the United States to lure top researchers north of the border. Whatever the impetus to pour millions of dollars into recruiting scholars and research scientists north, the recruitment drive has so far proven highly controversial . In fact, for many, it seems to be a case of chasing shiny objects at a high price, but on this account, the Canadian government is not alone. Every year, businesses around the world engage in similar practices and often end up producing little more than bad feelings among their current workforce.
In the case of the Canadian government, at least two errors have already been made in their effort to attract top-notch researchers from around the world. First, despite strict regulations about privileging Canadian hires (under normal circumstances, Canadian universities can only hire an American or other foreign worker if they can prove there is no Canadian qualified for the job), in this case, only foreigners are allowed to apply. Second, despite the fact that academic positions are usually advertised for several months and tend to entail drawn out hiring processes, which take on average up to a year to finalize, in this case, universities are being pushed to skip established regulations and close hires in months rather than years. For many Canadian researchers, these two factors alone suggest that the program is a form of political grandstanding. For some, the program is also raising serious ethical and compliance concerns.
However, as Raymond B. Blake, a professor of the University of Regina, laments, the Canada 150 Research Chair Program also has another serious problem: It is sending the wrong message to scholars already working in Canada and to their graduate students: “Excluding young Canadian scholars at a time when they need opportunities is only one of the problems with the Canada 150 program. There is no evidence to suggest the brightest minds at Harvard, Oxford, MIT and other leading international schools are eager to vacate their posts for Saskatoon, Sherbrooke or St. John’s. Even if potentially bright minds are withering away in the U.K. or U.S., eager to seek refuge in Canada, why not have them compete with the brightest minds in Canada?”
Notably, the Canada 150 Research Chair recruitment drive may be unique insofar as it is being driven by the government of a G-7 nation, but it is not unique in its approach. All too often, private companies engage in forms of recruitment that look outside rather than inside their current talent pool. This often reflects a belief that if one needs talent, they have to look further afield. In fact, this is not always the case. With effective talent mapping, training, and leadership development, one can avoid the high cost of looking for talent outside one’s organization and even beyond one’s national borders. By doing so, however, there are other gains. When one looks outside, they are implicitly telling their current talent pool that they are simply not good enough. This in turn has a negative impact of employee engagement and low engagement has been shown to drag down productivity while lowering retention. Recruiting from within can eliminate these direct and indirect costs.
So what is the cost of chasing shiny objects? Recruiting outside one’s organization and especially internationally is already an expensive endeavor. However, the residual effects can also come at a high price. This is not to suggest that international recruitment is never necessary or strategic. Indeed, it often yields a high return on one’s investment over time. The challenge is to avoid doing so unnecessarily and to avoid lowering the bar (changing established hiring rules) in the process. This appears to be where the Canadian government has already gone wrong in its current drive to recruit the best and brightest researchers from around the world.