Statement to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, September 28 2016

Low economic growth does not have to be Canada’s fate, despite the rapid changes around us.  But low growth is our destiny unless we change with the times.
Technology has changed the global economy, our demographics and our workforce have changed, yet our policies for data, talent and innovation largely remain the same. 
We need data that can tell us not where we were five years ago, but where we are now and where we are going tomorrow.

We need fewer programs for Canadians to get a general education, when they want a specific job, and more programs that give the specific knowledge and know-how they need to get the jobs they seek. 
We need an innovation strategy that doesn’t tell firms that they need to work to commercialize more ideas, but listens to the ideas on how commercialization actually works.
It’s time to do things differently.  

A polytechnic institution does do things differently. It combines the practical, hands-on approach of a college education and the in-depth study usually associated with university programs.  Our graduates have seamless transitions from education to employment, fostered by experiential learning opportunities.  Polytechnic applied research is driven by solving industry-identified problems with industry-friendly IP policies. 
Polytechnics Canada represents leading research-intensive, publicly funded polytechnics, colleges and institutes of technology. 

Our thanks, Mr. Chairman and Committee members for having us here. While our written submission and recommendations in front of you are specific, I will speak to the higher order challenges they address: our call for action on data, talent and innovation.
Let’s start with data.  Economics 101 tells us that successful markets need good information. However, we are failing to successfully produce the necessary data to match people to skills to jobs.

We see stalled start-ups, who think they have to look abroad for expensive talent, and cohorts of young people, trained in Canada’s best institutions, working jobs far below their skill sets. In short, poor information results in poor public policy and in market failures. 
To solve this problem we need to better leverage and share existing data about the labour market, and invest in gathering data to fill the glaring gaps all Canadians face when forecasting the jobs and job market of the future.

Next, talent. Canada urgently needs an inclusive talent strategy that moves past elitist and hierarchical notions of what education and training should be. “Best and brightest” must now apply to all types of graduates in all professions and vocations.
Much of our innovation gap is an education gap.  The lack of alignment between employer demand for skills and the supply of graduates in the labour market is a longstanding challenge. Today, it takes longer for young people to launch careers, or existing workers to launch second careers, even while firms struggle to find the talent to compete and innovate.  Our submission recommends several measures that begin to fix our talent ecosystem. 

Finally, innovation – a topic that is getting much attention today, as it almost always has when discussing Canada’s productivity and aspirations for growth.  Yet, we continue to erroneously conflate innovation with breakthrough science, and thus have failed to develop distinct strategies for either. This is a recipe for under-performance. We have invested heavily, but failed to get the desired results for business, for research, or workers.

Canada’s innovation performance is subpar because we lack policies and programs that respond to industry demand for innovation. Instead we push ideas, graduates and programs on industry that aren’t aligned with their needs and won’t help them grow. 
In particular, many small and medium-sized enterprises want to innovate but lack the supports they need.  Others require time-sensitive solutions to implement innovative ideas.  Polytechnics excel at providing these kinds of supports, yet, they receive only 1.7% of total federal support for higher education R&D. It’s time to ramp up the supports to business by utilizing the innovation capacity of polytechnics and colleges.

Our recommendations go against long-held Canadian orthodoxy. But different approaches to data, talent and innovation are needed to avoid a destiny of low growth. 

 

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