How Will Canada Leverage Its Innovation Potential?

Canada has much of the infrastructure in place in order to grow its innovation economy. The country is home to a number of globally-ranked universities, and cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are hubs for globally successful start-ups. It’s the beginning of a great ecosystem, but it needs more.

Canada has been at the forefront of some of the most impactful innovations made around the world, thanks in large part to a world-class education system, and a history of hard-to-match skill and innovation. This history of innovation has brought the country profound social and economic development, and has allowed for the creation of entirely new industries, as well as new opportunities for thousands of Canadians. 

At the same time, just a few decades into the 21st century, it’s also true that Canada continues to enjoy prosperity and growth simply because we are a resource-rich country. Now, with the incontrovertible evidence of climate change and environmental destruction, we need to be asking ourselves if we’ve got the balance right. That is, we need to ask ourselves if we are putting enough of our resources into building the innovation economy, rather than simply relying on the staggering abundance of our natural resources.

Resources such as water, oil, gas, and even soil are limited. But innovation isn’t. And more innovation can lead to better use of increasingly scarce resources, helping transform our traditionally carbon-intensive economy to a greener, and even a carbon-neutral future. Developing a stronger innovation economy holds other promises, too. Resource extraction has always followed cycles of boom and bust, as macroeconomic forces have played havoc with demand for the things that Canada grows, mines, fishes, and cuts. Additionally, corporate concentration in the resource sector puts much of the control of our wealth into relatively few hands, and leaves Canada exposed to global shocks. Innovation, on the other hand, relies on a complex ecosystem of people and institutions, companies and governments at all levels. The promise is that, if done right, an innovation economy could be significantly more inclusive—and transformative—than the one we have right now. 

The case for shifting the country towards an innovation-rich economy is so strong that it has emerged as a high level policy theme at the federal level, with many significant initiatives already underway. Despite some progress at changing the balance, Canada still has a long way to go when it comes to growing its innovation and knowledge economy.  Globally, Canada is facing stiff competition from other countries to attract top talent and fuel growth in innovation and technology. In light of this, Canadians need to rethink how we approach innovation to ensure that the country is maximizing its full potential. The question is, how can we leverage our innovation potential?


Why Is Innovation Important?

Thinking about innovation at this broader level means seeing it as more than simply the invention or introduction of something new. Instead, innovation brings critical improvements that allow communities, countries, and even the global community to thrive at a higher level. Building the innovation economy opens the door to better productivity, cost saving opportunities, and holds out the promise of greater equality, and the development of more human-centred societies. Why? Because the knowledge economy requires people and communities who are educated, who can dream, who enjoy leisure and mobility, and who are free to act on their desires

If this weren’t enough, it is more important than ever for Canada to find innovative ways to sustain and achieve growth. With employment growth expected to fall to just 0.3% per year from 2014 to 2064—a significant change from the 2% per year increases seen from 1964 to 2014—we need to return to that question of the economic balance we’ve struck over the last several decades, and understand that the heady days of traditional resource extraction are not only numbered, but declining. So again, how do we leverage our innovation potential? The answer is obviously complicated, as it involves a complex mesh of policies, economic initiatives, and public leadership. But the answer is also simple, too, because the answer is people. Canada needs skilled and talented people to fuel its innovation economy. 


Rethinking talent: The case for upskilling

As we’ve said before, Canada cannot simply rely on immigration to meet our talent needs. So when we make the connection between growing the innovation economy, and building a skilled workforce, we need to figure out where to find the kind of talent we need, and we need to figure it out quickly. Traditionally, companies look for candidates with plenty of experience in a particular field. Although this may work sometimes, and can help lessen the financial impact of a new hire, it’s also a limited approach. There are two things worth pointing out here. The first is that we know that there is already a shortage of skilled workers, and it’s having an impact on corporate growth. But the second thing is this: do our traditional practices of hiring really bring us the people who can drive innovation?

Let’s assume for a minute that the answer to this question is mostly no. If that’s the case, then we need to look at other solutions that can source talent from existing—and overlooked—pools. At Palette Skills, we believe that upskilling does exactly this. By including upskilling as part of the hiring and development process, businesses not only welcome a much wider range of candidates, but they also benefit from the more varied range of experiences and perspectives that non-traditional candidates bring to the table. This is important, because more and more, the evidence is telling us that innovation actually comes from diversity. You can’t plan innovation. It happens for all kinds of reasons, but when you bring different kinds of people together, innovation starts to take place. 

At Palette Skills, we’ve been focused on developing upskilling programs, because we believe that it’s one of the best ways to address Canada’s skills shortage. But we also know that our upskilling programs reach talented Canadians who—for all kinds of reasons—might not get past a traditional corporate HR process. What we see is a virtuous circle, one where companies get access to untapped talent, and skilled and ambitious people move ahead with good careers, and help build Canada’s innovation potential at the same time.


Canada is ready for innovation

Canada has much of the infrastructure in place in order to grow its innovation economy. The country is home to a number of globally-ranked universities, and cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are hubs for globally successful start-ups. It’s the beginning of a great ecosystem, but it needs more. At Palette Skills, we think there’s a good deal of work that Canada can do from the ground up, and that means building skills in our existing workers. Markets and industries are continually evolving and shifting, and catastrophic events like a pandemic or foreign war have shown how vulnerable our traditional ways of doing things are. A skilled, nimble workforce is going to be a key part of Canada’s innovation future, and upskilling programs like ours have shown businesses and policymakers that the potential is right here, right now, and ready to be tapped. 


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