28 May 2011

What employers want; What employers need

How Next Happens: Building our Economy through Incremental Innovation was held this past week in Toronto, and featured many excellent speakers on the need for an innovation policy in Canada. A paper was produced to spur discussion, linked here. MRI Minister Glen Murray opened the day, reminding us that "disruptive innovation is the exception; incremental innovation is the rule." This point is not often articulated, and the day's speakers impressed with a focus on the economic and social value of incremental innovation, which is responsible for most innovation productivity.

Minister Murray posited "innovation has replaced production as the primary driver of wealth creation and productivity," and that our collective failure to embrace this and the value of incremental innovation is one of Canada's failures. But this can be corrected, and the day's speakers outlined useful ways forward in this regard.

One way to do this is to teach innovation. Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, says we should start this at the secondary level. To one point raised in the audience about innovation being unteachable, Martin replied: it's not unteachable; it's just not taught. He's right. It is this gap that we in the colleges and polytechnics are trying to fill with applied research and educational programs that teach innovation literacy - a constellation of skills that cohere around job-specific capabilities and enhance these with critical thinking and problem solving. As noted in the Polytechnics annual conference summary, the sector councils understand the need for these sorts of innovation skills, even when Canadian employers may not. This is the role of government policy as outlined in the "How Next Happens" event: provide leadership around innovation and entrepreneurship, and create an innovation policy that focuses on business innovation and helping firms plan for the future.

It was Roger Martin who presented good data on what he calls Canada's invention policy. That is, if you examine what the granting councils promote, they focus on invention, not innovation, and certainly not incremental innovation. Bill Mantel, ADM of MRI, did make the point that colleges, notably through the MRI-sponsored Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII), do a lot to help firms with incremental innovation. More of this is needed to increase Canadian productivity. Mantel put this very well: "if you're going to talk about innovation, you have to talk about companies." CONII is an excellent model, Mantel told the audience, for working with SMEs and getting them to the right resource to help them innovate. The focus on firms is what will drive our future productivity. Invention from our world-class research labs is important, but focusing on what we can do to enable firms to innovate will be what lifts us out of our innovation nosedive. 

Peter Nicholson, of the Council of Canadian Academies, offered an excellent quadrant analysis of invention and diffusion. I've replicated this below. He grounded his discussion in a review of multifactor productivity and a point encapsulated by a good quotation from Zvi Griliches: "Most of the economy is quite far away from the boundaries of the current state of knowledge." That is, the State of the Art (upper right quadrant) is where most value is achieved by society for any given innovation, and this is where we need to move. This means encouraging firms to innovate, and linking our educational system to sponsoring innovation through applied research, but also through offering relevant educational programs that promote and foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and a move to the state of the art.

Diffusion of innovation model: P Nicholson
Kevin Lynch outlined four principles that should guide our approach to an innovation policy and improving productivity:
  1. Competitiveness is changing
  2. The globe is restructuring
  3. There is now  "great global talent hunt"
  4. Information is the new global currency
Lynch's point is that Canada needs to adopt information-driven competition - to use global benchmarking to drive innovation and productivity. We need to make explicit efforts on figuring out where we are (for example, within Nicholson's quadrant) and make every effort to move to where society gets the most value. Perrin Beatty summarized the day's discussion succinctly, saying as a society we have not put enough emphasis on the need for continual innovation. Our firms - and our workforce - needs to be able to understand the need for incremental innovation and its role in fostering improved productivity A challenge noted was that these concepts need to be made relevant - and resonant - with the Canadian public.

What does this mean for college and polytechnic education in Canada, and indeed the entire post secondary education (PSE) system? It means focusing on offering programs that equip graduates for work in today's and tomorrow's innovation economy. It means understanding that employers want graduates with the skills to do today's jobs, and helping them understand the need for skills for tomorrow's jobs. Governments are instructive and do lead here, but can only do so much. The PSE system has a job to do in educating employers on what is needed to encourage greater innovation and productivity across the economy.

George Brown College excels at providing graduates with job-ready skills. By equipping our graduates with innovation literacy, gained through applied learning and practical research and innovation projects, we are giving the economy the skills employers need. Our collective public education mission is therefore two-fold: to educate the students that come to us for job skills and career pathways, as well as to educate employers on the need for adopting and adapting innovation and the skills required to future proof Canadian industry. The future of Canadian productivity is a team effort.

25 May 2011

George Brown College student wins OCE Discovery video contest

Edward Wong, GBC CCET student, won the OCE Connections video contest last week at the OCE Discovery conference.

Edward's video beat out competitors from universities and colleges across Ontario. Edward received $2500 for his win, and was lauded for his efforts. See the awards presentation video here - Edward is on at 3:47. We had two others in contention: the Portable wind generator, and Resilient City.

GBC's booth at the conference enjoyed a distinct increase in visitors after Edward's win; many people came by to learn more about the vertical axis wind turbine innovation project and to speak to Edward and his colleagues - including CCET professors Leo Salemi and Tyler Krimmel - about their work with industry partner Green Syndications. Video from the event, including MRI Minister Glen Murray's luncheon and awards ceremony speech, is available on the OCE website.
The OCE Discovery is the premiere event showcasing academic/industry innovation in Ontario and Canada. The GBC applied research team did an excellent job of organizing an outstanding multimedia presentation. Faculty members, staff and students from CCET, CHCA, and BAD were present with our industry partners showcasing many of the applied research and innovation projects conducted across the college. Attendees saw first hand what innovation looks like in Ontario's colleges and universities.

Please join me in congratulating Edward and the rest of the VAWT team, as well as all of the faculty, students and applied research staff who made a significant effort to mark us on the innovation map.

George Brown College Research Labs: Enabling the Innovation Economy

11 May 2011

Thinking, making, and innovation literacy

The Globe's latest article on education in Canada provides a useful reference to our ongoing discussion on credentialism, differentiation and instrumentality. Creeping crendentialism is evident as art schools now offer undergraduate degrees - the article outlines the difference between degrees (study) and apprenticeship into art (practice). This is not a bad thing in and of itself. An additive approach to education and fostering innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in all areas of education will better enable Canada to enhance productivity. Art schools in particular represent a key facet of enhancing our wider industrial capacity to leverage design talent in business innovation. This is not something we have done much of to date in this country.

Differentiation in education is an idea gaining credence, as we move away from a one size fits all approach to developing educational pathways that fit labour market needs and the needs of students seeking to find their place(s) in the national economy. That is, enabling people to access credentials in an additive fashion, integrated in work, and with the capacity to return to education to retrain, reschool, and renew as the labour market itself evolves and industry shifts over time. And, related to the point above about design, there is nothing wrong with instrumentality - the directed leveraging of talent (design, artistic) into improving business innovation. "Applied talent" is one way we could describe this, and this does not sully the purity of art as expression, but rather recognizes that art and design have a place in the world of business innovation. As Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University says: “[Graduates] need to be thinkers who are highly adaptable as well as makers.” This is the essence of instilling innovation literacy in graduates: being able to add value to innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

And speaking of innovation and entrepreneurship, the proceedings of the Polytechnics Canada Annual Conference are available here. There are lots of good points - see in particular the opening address by BCIT President Don Wright, who offers some salient predictions on future directions in education. This is part of moving the conversation on education forward. We need a collective courage to really examine the premise of our education system as we redefine it for the 21st century.

10 May 2011

Polytechnics and skills for the innovation economy

The last couple of days have seen some interesting articles in the Globe and Mail about postsecondary education and the rise of college and polytechnic credentials. The latest one refers to polytechnics and colleges and our role as finishing schools for those graduating university with BAs in need of work related context. The debate here is about the relative utility of a BA, and while an interesting argument, the focus on how polytechnics and colleges can offer post-graduate programs to give graduates practical job skills on top of these BAs is most relevant. As Rick Miner puts it in today's article, if we had a fully articulated postsecondary education system with full transferability, then we would better be able to give students more seamless education in less time, and for less money invested overall.

These points were made very clearly at the Polytechnics Canada Annual Meeting last week hosted by BCIT. As I noted in my brief summation, our focus on innovation and entrepreneurial skills, labour market mobility and credential laddering is pushing forward a necessary conversation in Canadian postsecondary education. A lot of the discussion focused on the "context skills" commensurate with working in teams and for greater workplace productivity. We know these as a group of skills we call innovation literacy, and it was good to see so many of our industry speakers calling for the integration of these skills. The Plenary Panel: "Start-up Canada: Building entrepreneurs through polytechnic education" featured a group of speakers (myself included) who had a very engaging discussion on the opportunity we have as a country to chart a course of differentiated education that is "outside in" focused, rather than "inside out." By this I mean we can offer laddered credentials, integrated within applied workplace projects (such as we do with applied research and capstone projects), that are focused on what employers need, and the needs of those seeking skills, training and education to become full participants in the knowledge economy. We can make a bold statement with education delivery in this regard, and help transform Canadian education for the 21st century. This transformation integrates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills with nonSTEM skills, realizing that a people-centred innovation and the innovation economy requires us to remain flexible and nimble in our approach to innovation and entrepreneurship more generally.

And this leads nicely into the summation of the innovation and entrepreneurship session I moderated at the conference. The group landed on the following three priorities:

1. Integration
- of innovation and entrepreneurship skills in all PolyCan programs - start early, not just capstone, but foundation of programs
- ensure graduates understand the importance and relevance of I.E. skills
- of STEM/nonSTEM skills across curricula (inclusion of technical, soft, and context skills
- of benefits to industry in core messaging

2. Harmonization
- of messaging with sector councils and industry, government and community audiences, and other PSE advocacy organizations to jointly advocate for innovation and entrepreneurship skills, importance, and retraining/ongoing education needs of workforce

3. Differentiation
- between innovation and entrepreneurship
- in our focus on applied research - switch from outputs to outcomes - benefits to industry, other audiences
- in PolyCan programs - make a bold shift to lead the way in redefining innovation, entrepreneurship and links to education

These are good thoughts for this day, or for any day, as we work together to redefine education for the innovation economy.

05 May 2011

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Skills for the innovation economy

Today at the Polytechnics Canada Annual Meeting we had a very good discussion on the evolution of polytechnic education, applied research and the links to social and economic productivity. Specifically, we addressed the following topics:
  • Innovation and entrepreneurial skills and their benefits for graduates, industry and Canadian society 
  • Applied research in curricula as one avenue of “learning by doing” 
  • Unlocking the innovation potential across the educational continuum
Our focus was on building our role as innovation intermediaries, as conduits for enhancing industry capacity to innovate, and on focusing on the diffusion of innovation and entrepreneurship. We discussed a wide concept of innovation, many points of which I have addressed here in the past, and expressed as a word cloud below:

Our opportunity is to define Canadian innovation, and work with other actors in the education system to create an innovation value chain that prepares graduates for the world of work today, as well as tomorrow.

04 May 2011

GBC joins PMH in Food Fight for Health

George Brown College has joined forces with Princess Margaret Hospital in the Food Fight for Health. Go to this site to vote for our cause:

Victory will be achieved when an army of Youth Touched by Cancer (YTC), food fighting warriors, embraces healthy living habits. Our mission is led by a vibrant team including a trained chef, registered dietitian, and dedicated volunteers. The enthusiasm in the kitchen is contagious, motivating our food fighters to adopt new practices both in their own lives and to share with their communities. Week-long training camps for YTC will provide the skills and knowledge for a new generation of healthy living.

If we win the vote we will get the funding needed to launch this worthy initiative, which builds on our successful partnership in creating healthy recipes for cancer survivors.

Vote early; vote often!