Let’s keep skills and innovation in the conversation

The writs have been issued.

Candidates in 338 ridings across the country will have 38 days to convince constituents of their plans for local change while leaders share their respective visions for the country.  On October 21, voters will go to the polls and elect the members of Canada’s next parliament.

As a public-policy wonk, this is as good as it gets.

This election comes at a pivotal time.  Canada, like many of our international peers, faces real concerns:  climate change, automation, Indigenous reconciliation and an aging population among them.  None are likely to be solved quickly or by implementing any one solution.  These issues are inter-connected and complex, requiring the brain power and goodwill of Canadians from every corner of the country to address them.

It is a lot to expect that our politicians will come to us with the answers, particularly in an environment that values soundbites and social media posts over substantive discussion and well-considered plans.  The reality is that big challenges require collaboration and sustainable solutions that transcend any one political party or leader.  Good ideas – ones that are pragmatic and actionable – are equally likely to emerge in Canadian coffee shops as they are in political debates.

While I don’t have the big answers, it is clear to me that many of our challenges find the best solutions at the intersection of skills and innovation.  At Polytechnics Canada, this is the space where we do much of our work.

Take climate change, for example.  Canada has made international commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions and develop a path to a low-carbon future.  To meet these commitments, we need stakeholders in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to develop innovative ways to reduce output.  We equally need a workforce with the skills and resources required to operationalize this transition.  In British Columbia, the Smart Microgrid Initiative at BCIT provides a space for utility companies, technology providers and students to collaborate on research and development in areas like renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy storage – all critical components of Canada’s next generation energy infrastructure.

What about automation and labour market displacement?  Despite current low levels of unemployment, Canada faces persistent anxiety about emerging technologies and their ability to augment or replace traditional occupations.  This puts Canada in a difficult position.  We need businesses to utilize emerging technologies to remain internationally competitive, but we also need a labour market that can build, maintain and repair these increasingly automated systems.  The Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation at Humber is working to strike the balance of facilitating industry innovation while also considering the implications to skills and workforce development.  In addition to specialized technology, equipment and applied research space, the Centre is home to Humber’s Advanced Manufacturing Skills Consortium, made up of industry-leading partners committed to ensuring education and training keeps pace with the speed of business.

And Indigenous Reconciliation?  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission shares just a small piece of the lived reality for many Canadians and outlines the beginning of a path forward.  Responding to the Calls to Action will require us to rethink our current processes, innovate program delivery and harness the knowledge, skills and perspectives of a diverse group of stakeholders.  For institutions like Saskatchewan Polytechnic, this is reflected in a Indigenous Student Success Strategy, containing a series of institutional commitments that contribute to the Calls to Action and ensure all students have the resources and supports necessary for success.

And finally, what about our changing population pyramid?  Estimates suggest that by 2035, Canada will be home to 10 million seniors, raising the need for a healthcare system and workforce that adequately responds to and cares for this population.  In Kitchener, the Living Classroom at Schlegel Villages brings new meaning to interactive learning in the health sector.  Students at Conestoga College eschew the traditional classroom for a long-term care home where their program is delivered in partnership with those living and working at the facility.

Now that the writs have been issued, public policy debate will no doubt intensify.  Canadians should demand something more than partisan jabs in this election cycle.  If we’re serious about finding solutions to Canada’s big challenges, let’s keep the conversation focused on skills and innovation.

About the Author

Matthew Henderson, Director of Policy at Polytechnics Canada

Matt contributes to the research, writing and evidence-gathering that support the policy advocacy objectives of the organization. He engages with member working groups to ensure policy research and advocacy is rooted in the latest data about students, programs and graduates. Matt holds a Master’s degree in International Public Policy from the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Wilfrid Laurier University.