30 October 2012

Toronto Next: Return on Innovation

George Brown College President Anne Sado yesterday spoke at the Empire Club, detailing the results of our study of Toronto Next: Return on Innovation. The report shines a light on our well documented poor innovation record, and reinforces that we are not seeing enough private sector investment in innovation.
This is a serious and significant problem for the short and long-term competitiveness of our local economy. Based on the report, business is not seeing the value of investments in new technologies and equipment, skills training and R&D partnership in sparking their innovation: Half of GTA businesses and organizations perceive little to no return on investment in new technologies, innovative skills training, product development or fostering R&D partnerships with academic institutions.

Businesses are saying that it’s not their responsibility to innovate. Surprisingly, 50% of respondents think it is the role of government to drive innovation and productivity. While it is certainly true that government investments in polytechnic and college applied research are helping businesses to innovate, we need more firms to step up and take the lead. George Brown College is doing our part - the study itself is a key way that we understand the employment landscape our graduates are entering. 

Tellingly, over half of employers surveyed feel that a dependence on ‘old economy’ industries or a lack of private sector funding are causing Canada’s low levels of innovation. I've written before how ideas are just another raw resource Canada extracts without adding value. We need to do a better job of connecting students and graduates to the world of work, a topic raised in the Globe and Mail's recent Our Time o Lead feature on education. My contributions to this effort included encouraging a focus on outcomes based education. In particular  I don't understand why in universities career centres are an afterthought. We need to do a better job of encouraging all levels of education to focus on outcomes. Colleges celebrate their connection to employment - it is George Brown College's strategic direction to understand employment. 

To this end, our survey shows that a shortage of innovative employees to hire is the largest barrier to employers investing in innovation, along with concerns about long-term ROI. Thus our focus on applied learning and research, through which we instill innovation literacy, helps us close the gap between what we teach, what students learn, and what employers need. 

As Anne Sado said yesterday, George Brown College has a bias for action and we are open for business innovation. The results of this survey notwithstanding, the GTA does not have an innovation problem. It has an innovation opportunity.

No comments: