To ensure that the next generation of Canadians will be successful in the fast-changing knowledge economy, we must rethink common assumptions about education and training.
There’s no doubt that Canada has an outstanding higher education system that has produced one of the most highly educated populations in the world. However, many Canadian students find that upon graduating, the skills they have acquired through their studies do not fully align with the skills employers are looking for. While many Canadian universities and polytechnics are taking concrete steps to provide more opportunities for students to develop professional skills, graduating students often report that their academic programs have not provided them with the career development and professional skills training opportunities they need to secure meaningful careers. This in turn limits Canada’s overall innovative capacity, with more than a quarter of businesses surveyed by Statistics Canada citing a lack of skills as an obstacle to innovation. This challenge is likely to increase as disruptive changes transform entire industries, and the shelf-life of a given skillset gets shorter and shorter.
An effective innovation strategy must therefore respond to these trends by supporting effective education and training of future innovators. The World Economic Forum reports that in order to “futureproof” a workforce, “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.
In order to grow talent and skills in the workforce, Canada will need to significantly increase the number of work-integrated learning opportunities available for students. Employers report that such opportunities are among the most important sources of relevant work experience when considering candidates for positions, and such opportunities also benefit employers by providing them with specialized knowledge, skilled talent and fresh perspectives.
Mitacs is prepared to support this objective, with a plan to foster talent for growth by scaling Mitacs’ programs to deliver 10,000 annual innovation internships across Canada by 2020. This would make Canada an international leader in providing graduate-level work-integrated learning opportunities, supporting roughly 20% of graduate students in Canada. Mitacs also proposes to change eligibility restrictions around the Mitacs Accelerate program to allow undergraduate students and students at Canada’s outstanding polytechnics and colleges to participate in peer-reviewed, research-based internships.
Canada’s higher education system is a competitive asset in the knowledge economy. Through work-integrated learning opportunities, we can build on this asset to strengthen Canada’s innovative capacity and competitiveness.
 Sekuler, A.B., Crow, B. & Annan, Rob. (2013). Beyond labs and libraries: career pathways for doctoral students. Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Beyond%20Labs%20and%20Libraries.pdf
 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. (2009). Survey of innovation and business strategy. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Retrieved from http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/eas-aes.nsf/eng/ra02097.html
 Business Council of Canada. (2016). Developing Canada’s future workforce: a survey of large private-sector employers. Retrieved from http://thebusinesscouncil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Developing-Canadas-Workforce-March.pdf