For Canada’s future workforce to have the capacity to innovate, we must equip them with the necessary skills and provide them meaningful opportunities to practice them. Like many Canadian colleges and polytechnics, George Brown College offers students applied research opportunities in curriculum or as part-time employment where they work directly with industry to find solutions to their innovation challenges.
Not only do these opportunities provide students with the opportunity to gain practical experience and enhance their skills in their area of study, but they provide students with marketable workplace skills and innovation literacy, that is, the ability to think creatively and apply problem solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and contexts. Innovation literacy is a transferable skill that enables students to be flexible innovators in the workforce. Since 2008, George Brown College has enabled 724 applied research partnerships that have provided 7,592 student applied research experiences and opportunities to develop these skills.
No one personifies the ideal applied research experience more than John-Allan Ellingson, a 2014 graduate of George Brown College’s Mechanical Engineering Design program and 2012 graduate of the CNC/Precision Machining program. Early in his studies, John-Allan chose to participate as a student research intern on a long-term project with SOS Customer Service to design, prototype and test a novel, lightweight and portable crane to lift curtain wall panels into place for installation during construction of low-rise commercial and residential buildings. This work won him 2nd place at the 2013 Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase and catalyzed his engagement in applied research. In his tenure at the College, he helped 7 companies in sectors as diverse as food, construction and aerospace to develop and improve their products. He proudly shared his work and experiences by representing the College at the Conference Board of Canada’s 2013 Business Innovation Summit and OCE Discovery 2013. John-Allan also served as the 2013-2014 Student Innovation Advisor for George Brown College’s Innovation Advisory Board, a multi-sectoral industry, entrepreneurial, and academic stakeholder group that provides a current and effective link between the Research and Innovation office at George Brown College and the key sectors it serves. In recognition of his contributions and achievements in applied research, John-Allan was awarded the Student Innovation Award in 2013 and the inaugural Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge in 2014. He credits his applied research experiences at George Brown for teaching him how to identify the business opportunities that lie beneath challenges, demystifying and changing his perception of entrepreneurship to a pathway for guiding skills from the classroom and shop to bring prototyped solutions towards further development and the market, and showing him how to draw parallels between vastly different sectors to find unique solutions in the most unlikely places.
John-Allan has since gone on to enroll in a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at Lakehead University and will soon enter the Canadian workforce with not only theoretical and applied training in his field of study, but also research problem solving, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and the ability to recognize innovation in the product development life-cycle.
It is our goal to provide all students with opportunities to develop and practice these in-demand workplace skills. We are calling on the government to enhance its funding for the programs that support these applied research opportunities at colleges and polytechnics so that we can equip students with the innovation skills that will drive Canada’s future productivity.