15 April 2013

Scorecard 2013 from the Board of Trade: Focus on skills for the innovation economy

The Toronto Region Board of Trade has launched their Scorecard 2013, reporting on the region's capacity for productivity and innovation. The focus this year is on human capital performance. There is good news in this year's report, including Toronto ranking fourth in North America for having the labour pool needed to increase our productivity, and sixth for overall performance.

"Beyond capital investment and investment in R&D, productivity performance and economic success of a region is also dependent upon the quality of its human capital" (p 60), the report notes. This is the three-legged stool of innovation, and the skills and talent part of this equation is arguably the most important as it is a driver of and result of improved R&D and technology investment.

The timing if the report coincides with the release of the Board of Trade's cluster strategy and Budget 2013's focus on these three essential elements for improving economic health. The report picks up on recent discussion trends on education, in particular the inference that an undergraduate degree is the key to economic success. There is a strong focus on the role that colleges and polytechnics play, both in offering undergraduate degrees and other credentials relevant to the labour market. This underscores an inherent problem with reporting on educational statistics, in that there is little room for nuance in understanding the effect of those who take a university degree followed by a college program to obtain job-relevant skills. Statistics Canada reports on the highest level of educational attainment only, and so will lose this point entirely. This came up in a recent panel discussion I participated in on The Agenda, which airs this evening. The Future of Higher Education is grappling with issues pertinent to skills and the innovation economy, and the need for a greater focus on outcomes at all levels of education coupled with a linking of education to labour market outcomes. Of course not all education need be instrumental  but we should nonetheless provide students (and so graduates) with the keys to future success via an articulation of what skills a particular program teaches.

James Bradshaw, writing in Saturday's Globe and Mail, makes this point well in Toronto’s recipe for prosperity: More graduates – and more paths to good jobs. There is a good example of how GBC graduate Noe Galeana is now working with Clear Blue Technologies, a company GBC Research is supporting. The point here is that when education - and in this case applied research - is linked directly to the needs of industry  everyone wins: the company who is innovating and who accesses skilled talent, the graduate who deploys these talents, and the economy generally. It is companies that commercialize products and services, and the people inside them who innovate.

Scorecard 2013 offers many good points for industry to heed, and presents a positive picture overall of the region's capacity to innovate. It notes areas for improvement, including getting more females in management occupations, increasing female labour market participation overall, and doing a better job of linking highly skilled immigrants to industry.

The Board of Trade is providing the kind of leadership we need in Canada: non-partisan analysis on how our world leading education system can work together to provide the required inputs for the labour market.


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