Innovation means no one ever ‘graduates’: Learning happens year-round. Industry and schools must adjust
Canada has a rich history of innovation, but in the next few decades, powerful technological forces will transform the global economy. Large multinational companies have jumped out to a headstart in the race to succeed, and Canada runs the risk of falling behind. At stake is nothing less than our prosperity and economic well-being. The Financial Post set out explore what is needed for businesses to flourish and grow. You can find all of our coverage here.
In every sector you can name, digital innovation, particularly the potential of artificial intelligence, is driving dramatic change.
A recent report from RBC estimates that 25 per cent of current Canadian jobs will be heavily impacted by technology — and yet, even in the midst of all this potential displacement, the Canadian economy will need to add 2.4 million new jobs over the next four years, all of them requiring a new combination of skills.
We cannot afford or excuse this double-jeopardy for Canadian prosperity: jobs without people and people without jobs.
In the innovation era, that means closer collaboration between our post-secondary institutions and industry than ever before. To stay on top of changing workforce requirements, universities and colleges need to be more aligned with industry needs. Industry, meanwhile, must also step up with support for future talent. No employer can expect new graduates to be job-ready on Day 1 without providing meaningful internship and co-op opportunities — and having meaningful discussions with their university and college partners about how these programs can help them meet future needs.
Employers also need to act on disruption before it happens. Firms know best which skills they’ll be hiring for, and which jobs are being displaced by automation. Colleges and universities can help companies retrain current employees, perhaps even on-site. Micro-credentials and continuous learning must be a part of the package of reforms needed to address the “future of work.”
Some of these changes might strain the traditional relationship between higher education and industry. Building a strong economy will require us to challenge existing structures. For industry to respond to the challenge of greater experiential learning opportunities like co-op programs they cannot be confined to a September-to-May schedule. Continuous learning, which is simply part of the package in the innovation era, happens year-round.
That’s a big change for higher education, but structural changes will be needed to ensure a competitive economy. Universities and colleges have been in this situation before. Ten years ago, there were precious few campus-based incubators to help students launch their own ventures. Today, nearly every university has one. It’s a recognition that undergraduate students, not just graduate students and faculty, can be innovators, and that entrepreneurial skills are essential to the innovation economy.
But the adaptation is far from complete. Topics such as intellectual property, the ethical use of data, and data privacy must be integral to every degree pathway. Universities and colleges need to make room for these and other digital-literacy topics in the curriculum. Everything new that is needed cannot all be additive. Tough choices may lie ahead.
Canada has many advantages in the innovation economy, including a strong talent-immigration strategy. The challenge now is to make sure the next wave of graduates is ready to step in and have Canada truly lead the innovation economy. It’s the collective responsibility of higher education, industry and governments to work together in support of their success.
There are always risks inherent in changing the way things have been done, but I have always found that betting on the next generation is the best bet society can make.
Sheldon Levy is the Special Advisor to the Minister of Small Business & Export Promotion. He served as Ontario’s deputy minister for advanced education and skills development (2015-17), President of Ryerson University (2005-15), and most recently the CEO of NEXT Canada (2017-2019).