Vancouver Sun – Training is key to innovation

British Columbia has to build on both cutting-edge technologies and its traditional strength in natural resources

In an increasingly global market-place, economies must find new ways to adapt and grow. Innovation is the engine of that growth and productivity the key to increasing standard of living. Today’s policies and investments will lay the foundation for continued and continual innovation that will sup-port the economy and society we envision for British Columbia in 2035 and beyond.

New technologies and emerging sectors such as clean technology, digital media and life sciences are most often associated with innovative thinking and future economic growth. Often dubbed the “economy of the future,” they represent a significant opportunity to diversify the economy and share in growing world markets. B.C. is well-positioned to build on early strength in these areas, and should strive to remain at the leading edge through a focus on industrial research and innovation that further boosts our standing in these important sectors.

However, we cannot forget our roots. Natural resources – mining, forestry, and natural gas – are also B.C.’s sectors of the future. As with emerging sectors, we must equally apply innovative thinking to these traditional economic strengths, finding new ways to do old things. These traditional sectors will remain a cornerstone of B.C.’s “knowledge economy” of 2035, made more productive and globally competitive through innovative thinking and practice.

Our real economic opportunity relies on simultaneously growing our traditional and emerging sectors, creating innovation synergy by leveraging each other’s strengths.

The greatest economic success will come from sharing the deep experience of our traditional sectors with the new ideas and practices of our emerging ones. We all benefit from an economic environment and culture that encourages firms in all sectors to be at the cutting edge in technology and business practice.

How do we get there? How do we ensure innovation spreads across sectors and permeates the B.C. economy? It will require the right policy framework focused on bringing together industry, academia and government to identify and address the unique challenges faced by key sectors.

It will require a collective effort across the economy, working together in pursuit of a common vision.

At its root, innovation is about people; we must cement investments in education and skills training. It starts with support for a world-class K-12 education system so that every citizen can participate fully in the economy of 2035. This support must continue through to cutting-edge college, undergraduate, advanced and professional degree programs. From trades-people to PhDs, our citizens must be the most highly trained and highly skilled.

Working together, they will apply their skills and talents to the industrial and social challenges we face today and be well-prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

Being internationally competitive means playing on the global stage from a young age. And that means moving aggressively to internationalize the B.C. educational system, from international student exchanges to international business strategies. An excellent example is the recently announced B.C. international higher education strategy that fosters and strengthens ties between our universities and some of the very best students in the world through the Mitacs Globalink program. Programs such as Globalink can build lasting ties to the Asia-Pacific, setting the stage for us to be North America’s gateway to one of the fastest growing regions of the world.

We must also work to encourage R&D in both the private and not-for-profit sectors. From direct support to industrial R&D programs to procurement policies to indirect support through training and skills development, government support for innovation must be a central plank in its economic strategy and decision-making processes.

Done right, it will stimulate growth of small and medium-sized enter-prises, positioning all businesses to take leadership in growth and job creation.

British Columbia’s world-class universities are well-positioned to sup-port efforts to expand industrial R&D. With three universities ranked in the world’s top 200, they represent a significant competitive advantage in the international marketplace of ideas. Policies and programs that support knowledge exchange and technology transfer between universities and industry will keep our firms at the cutting edge. We must leverage universities’ innovation capacity to help B.C. companies remain globally competitive.

In some ways, the economy of 2035 will not look that different from the economy of 2012. There will be a mix of small and large companies and a mix of traditional resource-based industry alongside new companies responding to a fast-changing knowledge economy.

However, the decisions we make today will determine whether these companies, and others that rise along-side them, will be innovative and productive enough to compete internationally, and support a world-leading, high-quality standard of living for our-selves and for our children.

Smart, far-sighted policies that put people and innovation at the fore are essential to building an economy that will ensure British Columbia’s future prosperity.

Arvind Gupta is the CEO and scientific director of Mitacs Inc., a national research network that builds connections between industry and Canadian universities.


Fri Jun 8 2012 
Page: A13 
Section: Issues & Ideas 
Byline: Arvind Gupta