People innovate. Whether it takes the form of a new product, new process, or new markets, the introduction of innovation is done by visionary individuals who see how to do things differently. A successful innovation strategy must therefore start by fostering the talent, skills and opportunities required for potential innovators to thrive.
The need for innovators intensifies as the economy continues to move towards an innovation-focused, high-value service base. Already, Canada’s service economy employs about three quarters of Canadians and accounts for 70.8% of GDP — a 5% increase since 2000. Financial services, environmental services, water-management services, and IT services are all areas where Canada is a world-leader, thanks in part to the innovators who have built world-class firms in these growing sectors.
The trend towards an economy built on innovative services is intensifying as the knowledge economy evolves. We are entering what has been called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” where disruptive technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology are quickly transforming the ways we live and work. As a result, the skills Canadians need for career success are also changing, and employers increasingly demand workers with a wide range of skills and functional knowledge.
An effective innovation strategy will respond to these trends by supporting the effective education and training of future innovators. To do so, Canada needs to increase the number of work-integrated learning opportunities for students in order to grow talent and skills, and to prepare the next generation for a rapidly changing economy. In order to “futureproof” a workforce, the World Economic Forum reports that “government and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment,” and they recommend enhanced collaboration between businesses, governments and education providers in developing 21st century curriculums.
There are some caveats: students should be paid; the learning opportunities should be relevant; and the experiences should be meaningful. The idea is that the opportunities are collaborative, and mutually beneficial. By connecting young minds with dynamic Canadian businesses, we can grow Canadian talent for innovation, strengthen the employability of post-secondary graduates, and provide businesses with the specialized knowledge, skilled talent and fresh perspectives they will need to adapt and innovate.
If Canada is serious about becoming an innovation leader, we need to make work-integrated learning opportunities the cornerstone of the Innovation Agenda.