19 March 2013

On skills, mismatched or otherwise

Speculation about Budget 2013 is rife with the premise of skills taking a front and centre approach in the federal government's agenda. Reports such as Flaherty to make skills training a budget focus, How to solve problem of jobs without people and people without jobs?, and Federal budget 2013: Skills training a top priority, businesses tell Flaherty show that the government is headed in the right direction in terms of ensuring that the economy has the right people with the right skills in the right places. While some may say that the skills shortage/mismatch is a misnomer, there can be no denying that Canada needs to do more to get the skills mix right. Of course the argument is complex, and it is not as easy as saying we need this type of education over that type of education. Outgoing University of Toronto president David Naylor makes these points in a recent Empire Club address, reinforcing as he does the need for basic research over applied. This is a laudable point, and one to be expected from Canada's largest research university (full disclosure: I am a proud alumni of UofT). He underscores this by emphasizing the need for the private sector to step up its R&D investment. But the most important message he imparts is the need "to promote shared programming between universities and colleges," including the good point that colleges are the finishing school for those with undergraduate degrees who want to get vocational skills relevant to the economy. The take away message here is that we need to play to our strengths, in education and research, in order to work together to solve our shared productivity and innovation problems. Putting skills front and centre, and to this I would relate the need for more outcomes based education in all post secondary education programs, is exactly the right thing to do in promoting effective wayfinding for the "K-to-work journey."

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