03 January 2013

Innovation literacy, skilled trades, and the economy

Happy new year!

The Ontario Jobs and Prosperity Council last month released "Advantage Ontario," a comprehensive report outlining how Ontario can "become more competitive and seize opportunities in the new global economy or our prosperity will decline, " according to the press release, which goes on to say that "The report identifies five key areas for action: going global; driving productivity growth; unleashing innovation and entrepreneurship; capitalizing on strength in talent and delivering smart, efficient government."

Today's Academica outlines the report's focus on the skilled trades and experiential learning. Both of these are important facets of our economy. Canada currently faces a real need for more skilled trades, and ensuring we can produce the trades we need, along with other knowledge workers, is key to our future prosperity. The Ontario Jobs and Prosperity Council report contains some good recommendations, key among these are "Introducing a business-led commercialization voucher to better link research to business needs." The SME voucher system has been proposed by Polytechnics Canada in their Statement to the House of Commons Industry, Science and Technology Committee and Statement to the Standing Committee on Finance's 2012 Pre-Budget Consultation. Such vouchers work well in other provinces, and implementing these here in Ontario will go a long way to encouraging firms to innovate. The vouchers let the market decide where to get help with applied research needs. polytechnics, colleges, universities  even private R&D labs, can all collaborate to compete together to serve the needs of innovative firms looking to get new products and services to market. Letting firms decide who can best serve their needs is a good way to ensure that the needs of firms are put first in the applied research endeavour.

At George Brown College, we are focused on preparing students for employment success. When we engage students in applied research, they gain innovation literacy skills while helping firms innovate. Our focus is on firm success, who can then hire our graduates to further their innovation goals. A key area of applied research for us is the Green Building Centre, funding for which was announced last year. FEDDEV Ontario has provided funding for the Green Building Centre which will enable us to link the training of the skilled trades to applied research in the green building area. Linking innovation  innovation literacy, and applied research with the skilled trades is a signal advantage of George Brown College and the Green Building Centre. We will be posting more information on this innovative and unique approach to education and applied research throughout the year as we continue to build the physical infrastructure we are using to support our partner firms.

On this note, it is important to point out the Polytechnics Canada Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in which Polytechnics Canada Director of Policy Ken Doyle outlines key ideas for addressing Canada's skilled trades and apprenticeship needs. This is required reading for anyone interested in Canada's future prosperity. As he points out, the skilled trades have literally built the knowledge economy. It's time we focused on building on our foundation of basic science excellence, and capitalizing on the trend emergent of making stuff. I've written here before about this trend - and the latest issue of Wired Magazine has an excellent article (about robots) on how the future of manufacturing will be focused on proximity; this is the re-shoring of manufacturing. It's coming, and our graduates are at the forefront of this change.

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