28 February 2013

Skills: where the puck is going

Dave McGinn, in today's Globe and Mail, has a good story about the shortage of skilled trades and the need for apprenticeship reform. "Looking for a job? Consider a trade" reinforces the huge skills gap that is looming in Canada. Our future productivity hinges on our ability to get more people working in the skilled trades, as well as to focus on how skills can be applied to work contexts. These are two separate but related issues.

The skilled trades are the knowledge workers of the innovation economy. As Ken Doyle of Polytechnics Canada has said, the skilled trades have literally built the knowledge economy. The importance of getting more people into trades, and ensuring that we modernize and thus have a robust apprenticeship program cannot be understated. Two Budget 2013 recommendations by Polytechnics Canada focus on this issue.

The applicability of skills more generally is also important  and it links to recent discussions about learning outcomes in post secondary education. That is, when we show our students what their programs teach them in terms of skills, our graduates are better able to articulate these skills learned into their future work places. This instrumentality and a focus on learning outcomes of programs is a hallmark of the college and polytechnic education, but is generally eschewed by our universities, for the simple reason that these systems have entirely different reasons for being.

My point here is that when we focus on outcomes, we enable learners to find pathways to employment and productivity. At George Brown College we say that we focus on the admixture of the hard and soft skills - a combination of the psychomotor and cognitive domains of learning. When we add to this experiential learning (such as applied research with industry), we enable learners to enter the affective domain of learning, a staple of innovation literacy. This means an attitudinal shift in our approach to work, my hypothesis being that it will lead to a more productive and innovative society.

We focus a lot on innovation and how to enable it, and with a renewed focus on how we create the skills encompassed by innovation literacy we aim through the target into the future.

Innovation is where the puck is; skills are where the puck is going.

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