28 June 2016

Canadian Chamber of Commerce convenes roundtable on Talent for Innovation

Yesterday the Honourable Perrin Beatty convened the Toronto roundtable in this series, examining the important topic of what talent Canada needs for the innovation economy. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the Honourable John McCallum opened the session with remarks on the importance of immigration to the supply-side of talent for Canada - this is particularly important for a country where we need people to fill the growing demographic gap due to retirements. I made the point that international students - important to the national economy - are prevented from participating in entrepreneurship programs - let's hope this can be changed.

I joined Cisco's Rick Huijbregts, VP Innovation and Digital Transformation Lead, Cisco, Americas, Wendy Cukier, Vice President, Research and Innovation, Ryerson University, and Alex Parizeau, Managing Director, Ubisoft Toronto in providing remarks for the roundtable discussion.

The Chamber set the stage thus:
Talent for Innovation is our topic. Through this project, our central question is: How can Canada cultivate talent for innovation? We are preoccupied with business innovation (i.e. innovation within companies) and innovation that comes to market (and not on pure “science and technology”). During our project, we will explore three key sub-questions:
  • What are the skills that foster innovation?
  • Where and how do we cultivate innovation skills and talent?
  • What can the federal government do?
We discussed many important topics, from the importance of generational change, to digital literacy, and main street entrepreneurship - fostering growth companies in all sectors of the economy, not just new technology. Diversity was an important theme - building on the initial discussion about the importance of immigration, but also encouraging women in STEM and other fields.

My remarks used Technology Readiness Levels as an example of the need for diversity and complementarity in skills, competencies and credentials. That is, if you are going from TRL 1 - where I have an idea to build a rocket - to TRL 9 - where I am actually launching that rocket - you require a team of multidisciplinary people who are educated at different level - from PhDs, to engineers, to technicians, marketers and beyond. When people from varied competencies/credentials work together there is a multiplier effect. This is the principle of ensuring that everyone - from across the credential spectrum - has innovation literacy. 

We need to focus on the skills Canada needs, but also the skills Canada wants - both transactional and transformative skills for the economy and civil society. A focus on Work Integrated Learning is essential here - both as a component of all undergraduate programming, but also as a model for integrating and socializing youth into careers. This latter point fits well into the federal government's initiative to reboot a Katimavik 2.0 - a kind of youth internship for a gap year between secondary and tertiary education. The government could offer tax incentives to businesses who participate, pay a stipend to youth to participate in social and economic nation building while trying out a potential career. This could be a way to avoid the $500-600M in student loan defaults per year, by enabling students to find a career, and so educational path, that suits their interests and aptitudes well.

Above all an integrated approach to fostering education for innovation is required. The Chamber should be applauded for adding its voice to this Canadian imperative.

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