09 May 2012

Polytechnic Education Works: Talent and Innovation for Employers

The Annual Polytechnics Canada conference concluded yesterday at Sheridan college, featuring the generation of good discussion and ideas around the conference theme Polytechnic Education Works: Talent and Innovation for Employers.

Ian Shugart, Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada spoke about the need for the sharing of labour market information, and outlined HRSDC's plans for an "open government" approach to collecting and collating information on the labour market. This is a good move, and one that will enable all in the post secondary system to work together to gather relevant data on how best to respond to emerging trends. I look forward to learning more about this, and to participating. A real highlight was the panel discussion “Manufacturing Innovation & Talent: Are we going to make it?”moderated by Bert Van den Berg, Director-Knowledge and Technology Transfer, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It featured Rob Atkinson, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Washington DC and Jayson Myers, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. Atkinson in particular offered some excellent insights on the differences between a science-based and engineering-based innovation culture - the former being a hallmark of the united States, and the latter of Germany. Saying that "Canada is neither the US nor Germany," Atkinson spoke about how over-investment in basic research puts a country at risk because knowledge (in the form of workers) is portable. What is needed is more investment in talent and the capacity to engage in applied research and development in higher technology (as opposed to medium or lower technology) manufacturing. The focus on short term profits has put our productivity in peril, as this is counter to investment in work force training (a major theme of the conference) and more attention to higher order manufacturing. 

The key here is a balance that is needed between basic and applied research, and science and engineering. To this we would include the people-centred innovation skills required for a fully functioning innovation economy. The discussion yesterday drew attention to this necessary combination of skills. 

My last post referred to the Economist's take on the Third Industrial Revolution, and the Globe has picked this up today as well. Elsewhere I've spoken about the need to be a price setter, not a price taker, which NSERC's van den Berg amplified during the session. The bottom line for polytechnics in Canada is that we fill a necessary void in providing both labour market support in our education and training programs, as well as innovation and applied research support to help firms be more productive. 

Another highlight of the day was the closing address by The Honourable Gary Goodyear,Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister responsible for Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Minister Goodyear spoke about how "Collaboration between government, applied researchers and the private sector is vital to building an innovative economy," said Minister Goodyear. "The College and Community Innovation Program supports research collaborations between companies and colleges. It illustrates the importance our government places on creating the conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive in this country." The full press release is online here, which provides details of the colleges and polytechnics who are receiving funding under the College and Community Innovation Program. This includes two for George Brown College:
  • The Green Homes initiative, based in our Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies, which focuses on novel building retrofit materials and methods and "Smart" building automation, sensor and control system technology development; and
  • The George Brown College Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRST), which is one of the country`s first Technology Access Centres.
Congratulations to all the winners, and in particular to the George Brown College recipients. These are all examples of how polytechnic education works, for Canadian innovation and productivity. 

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