22 February 2011

College applied research and work force skills: our value proposition

Last week Colleges Ontario convened an applied research symposium that featured students and industry speakers who outlined the college applied research value proposition. Michael Bloom of the Conference Board of Canada was the host, kicking off the day with a good context on the need for Canada to engage ore industry in applied R&D. The student speakers were a real highlight - each outlining what they have learned from their work on applied research projects as part of their college education.

This is the biggest point that emerged for me from the day. Our best way forward as a system is the integration of applied research in curricula, thereby teaching a wider workforce innovation literacy skills. The recent OECD article on workforce skills and innovation offers solid evidence for this integration. While many in the college system are advocating for commercialization chairs or applied research leaders, I believe our most promising way forward is to focus on how we mobilize multidisciplinary teams to solve industry R&D problems. These ideas are perhaps contiguous, but our strongest value proposition is not a focus on individual investigators, but on a more holistic "wikinomics" or participatory and open innovation approach. This means involving students in applied research as a core facet of their education. This will create more innovation literate graduates, thereby promoting the diffusion of innovation more widely. The net effects of innovation literacy at all levels of the workforce is the multiplier effect this can potentially have on all sectors of the economy. I'll be focusing more on this issue in the weeks and months ahead as part of the development of a large, multi-site research study George Brown College is leading on behalf of a large consortium of 19 partners.

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