Following These Recommendations will Help Canada Avoid a Missed Opportunity

By Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO

Missed opportunities.

Whether it is failing to buy that hot stock at a rock-bottom price or selling your home at the peak of the market, no one likes a missed opportunity.

Hopefully you did not miss the opportunity to attend THINK: The Future of Work, Innovation and Learning in Regina in May.  The conference, presented by Saskatchewan Polytechnic, featured four top-rated keynote speakers who explored the trends and technology driving unprecedented change and disruption in the workplace and education now and into the future.

One of the speakers was Andrew Schrumm, senior manager, Research, in the Office of the CEO at RBC. Schrumm, who manages RBC’s future skills research project, spent much of his time discussing the new RBC report, Bridging the Gap.

The report bears attention because it points to a number of potential good opportunities you do not want to miss. Three recommendations are of special interest.

To begin, the report rightly points out that small businesses “face the biggest barriers to participation in work-integrated learning programs, which teach students the job-ready skills that employers are looking for.  Small business owners want access to student workers but have fewer resources in terms of time, money and attention, making it challenging for them to efficiently obtain grants, recruit students and create meaningful work placements.”

Sask Polytech, where more than 70 per cent of programs contain a work-integrated learning component, works closely with many small businesses throughout Saskatchewan.  We realize the great benefits our students gain from the practical experience they receive through apprenticeships, co-ops, internships, field experience, practicums or technical training at these companies.

Bridging the Gap goes on to recommend that local business groups or innovation hubs could help bridge the gap for entrepreneurs by taking on the responsibilities of selecting, training and placing students in work placement programs. This is a great idea, one that polytechnics such as ours embrace.

The bottom line when it comes to work-integrated learning is to get students the experience they need to succeed in the workplace. Plus, small businesses benefit as a result. So, making it as simple and cost-effective as possible to link small businesses with students makes good sense.

Another excellent recommendation in Bridging the Gap is the need to promote digital skills in non-digital industries, something Sask Polytech does through our Digital Integration Centre of Excellence, or DICE.

DICE is a collaborative centre where industry can access resources and receive help to realize their digital requirements. With the growing incorporation of digital sensors into many aspects of business, manufacturing, processing, infrastructure and resource management, etc., the ability to properly architect, secure, integrate, test and capitalize on the data being generated is becoming increasingly important.

Centres like DICE, which offer industry access to outstanding facilities and student and faculty expertise, open up opportunities in many industries that would not on the surface be considered “digital.” Mining, an important sector in Saskatchewan, is just one example of an industry that could benefit from such centres of excellence.

The final recommendation in Bridging the Gap I want to draw attention to is one which stresses the need to increase training for Indigenous youth.

Indigenous youth are Canada’s fastest growing demographic, with close to 300,000 young people on the cusp of entering the workforce.  The report points out that their impact in the labour market will be strongly felt, particularly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where 24 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are Indigenous.

Indigenous student enrolment has increased dramatically at Sask Polytech, up 29 per cent between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 academic years. Indigenous students now make up 19 per cent of our student population.

As well, we have witnessed a marked improvement in our Indigenous graduate employment rate, from 53 per cent in the 2014-15 academic year to 60 per cent in 2017-18. Moreover, our Indigenous graduate employment rate has risen from 84 per cent in 2015-16 to 88 per cent in 2017-18.

Support for Indigenous students has also increased. Eleven years ago, scholarships and bursaries for Indigenous students totaled approximately $40,000. In 2017-18, that figure had grown to $522,685.

Much of the credit for these noticeable increases is because of our Indigenous Student Success Strategy, a road map to guide the institution in addressing such issues as how to remove barriers to program competition.

We want our students (all students, regardless of background) to graduate and find employment because we understand that when this occurs, our communities and our province prosper economically and socially. So, removing any barriers to success is critical.

Following the recommendations in Bridging the Gap will not just benefit institutions like Sask Polytech, but also all of Canada—and that is an opportunity no one should miss.