01 October 2014

Skills, innovation, the economy

With much discussion of late over skills and the role of education, it is interesting to see Alex Usher's post today featuring a Venn diagram of skills employers need versus those that alumni wish they had. It reinforces the work we do on innovation literacy and the promotion of those skills required for job market - and economic - success.

A recent Conference Board of Canada report called The Bucks Stop Here: Trends in Income Inequality Between Generations paints part of the picture here as well. There is some good news in this report, including increased labour market participation and a narrowing of the wage gap for women, and I note that the report states "The rise in average incomes does suggest that younger workers still have opportunities to advance." There is also a call to increase productivity in the labour force, which is consistent with many reports that look at how our labour force compares to other countries. With increasing retirements – and a corresponding shrinking of the labour force – increasing productivity is key to helping shape a vibrant economy.

Issues that are raised here such as underemployment and skills mismatches are real and important to address. One way that George Brown College is addressing these issues is to focus on a tight linkage to industry need in our programs. And, our emphasis on innovation literacy and what are called "soft skills" - those skills such as team work, communication, and entrepreneurship – gives our graduates a leg up in the job market. In addition, our focus on experiential learning – providing the capacity to apply skills through courses, applied research projects and internships, all help students to learn skills and apply them.

The Conference Board report notes that "The critical issue that emerges is how to ensure that younger workers are able to put their knowledge and skills to use in ways that will drive their incomes up faster than we have seen over the past three decades. " This is a very important point. Our focus on providing students with experiential learning and encouraging students to demonstrate what they have learned through for example our new digital badges program helps students seeking employment to demonstrate what they have learned in their programs and how they have applied this learning to real world contexts. Investing in education is a good thing, but this investment needs context: is there a labour market demand for a chosen profession? And importantly, what is industry's role in investing? We know that Canadian industry does not invest in additional education and training to the level our international counterparts do for their employees, and this is something that we foster with our close links to industry through our program advisory committees, for example.

Our focus on soft skills, on innovation literacy and entrepreneurship, and on how our programs link to employment give our students the tools with which to build experience and to gain employment. Students hone these skills further through experiential learning such as applied research and learn how to articulate the skills and knowledge they have gained so employers will understand what they know and know how to do. This puts the emphasis on the agency of each individual student, who is encouraged to come to the College, learn from our industry-relevant programs, and then demonstrate these skills and knowledge. We provide the context and the tools, and the encouragement to learn, and earn, a living.

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