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- The Fourth Industrial Revolution will see an economy that is fully technologically focused and driven by connectivity, computing power, and automation. Every sector of the Canadian economy must now think about how to adapt to these coming changes.
- Future workforce shortages are one of Canada’s major issues in the transition towards the future economy. Hybrid education and training programs must evolve to meet the exponentially rising digital workforce needs of the future.
- Regulations should reflect the ethics and values the country and economy want to uphold, instead of determining how exactly a business or entrepreneur should innovate.
Canada’s tech sector success will drive our future economy. Industry must work with all levels of government to facilitate inclusive procurement strategies to facilitate our SMEs’ access to government deals. SMEs account for much of Canada’s employment and drive both our productivity and our economy. Government contracts are a powerful way to help enable our promising SMEs to scale up.
How do you see technology impacting the nature and structure of Canada’s economy, and how will this progress in the future?
Most of you will have heard of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are already right in the middle of it and that means that the world has transitioned into a massive technological space driven by connectivity, computing power, and automation. This is leading to changing business models for Canadian companies. For example, they are having to adopt tech strategies to become more service-oriented including real-time point of sale, driving artificial intelligence (AI) predictive analytics, providing or using software as a service and putting more focus or developing intellectual property.
Technology is ubiquitous. Every sector must adopt technology and should be in the process of adopting technology. It is the engine of all things economy. Right now, Canada’s tech sector employs over 900,000 and produces 70% of the gross domestic product.
“Technology is ubiquitous. Every sector must adopt technology and should be in the process of adopting technology. It is the engine of all things economy.”
Another critical component of tech is establishing an environment of trust, privacy and data security. Canada must tackle this challenge from a national values perspective. We need to bring all layers of government together and adopt a collaborative approach to create a cohesive and powerful national digital strategy.
Corporations, educational institutions and government alike must get on board with technology. Non-profit industry associations have a big role to play in this regard, acting as a catalyst to influence collaboration and to bring together key stakeholders in the private and public sectors. A multi-sector approach to increase dialogue and problem-solving around the common needs or challenges of Canada’s digital transformation is imperative.
What are some of the weaknesses you have observed in the Canadian tech sector?
One of the biggest challenges we have had in the midst of this Fourth Industrial Revolution is the shortage of tech talent. It’s a particularly tough challenge for our SMEs, which is Canada’s largest employment sector.
Currently, Canada has a very fragmented digital strategy between municipalities, provinces, and the federal government. This makes it difficult for companies to sell technology nationally and implement systems nationwide.
Canada has a big job ahead of modernizing its governments and developing hybrid business/tech talent strategies. Educating and enabling our SME sector to adopt tech strategies is also critical to drive a healthy future economy.
“We also need clear regulation that supports innovation. Our regulatory environment in Canada is seen as being heavily burdensome. We need to simplify how companies can do business and innovate in Canada.”
We also need clear regulation that supports innovation. Our regulatory environment in Canada is seen as being heavily burdensome. We need to simplify how companies can do business and innovate in Canada.That means updating and modernizing our regulatory model and aligning it with the new business model of digital transformation, data and technology. Current regulations are getting in the way of companies wanting to come here and do business.
This modernization, if done well, will not impede innovation; it will protect national values around digital trust, privacy and security while empowering business to innovate. Regulatory environments can become problematic if they become too prescriptive.
“Regulatory environments can become problematic if they become too prescriptive.”
For example, when it comes to people’s data or safety, regulators should not tell a company that they can or cannot build their product in certain ways. What they should do is set clear rules around data security and safety. This way, companies can focus on building amazing products while keeping in mind that data should be anonymized or hashed before it is sent out into the internet of things. Do we really need to tell autonomous vehicle manufacturers how to build safety into their vehicles – or simply develop safety regulations around speed or hardware safety features? Instead, let’s help determine what values we want to apply as a nation to protect our citizens.
What would you stress as the key elements to focus on when shaping a national digital strategy?
First, collaboration is crucial. We should be creating more forums for municipalities, cities, provinces, federal bodies, and CIOs to work together, and discuss and problem solve everything from data fragmentation and interoperability to AI adoption in Canadian industry. This multi-sector dialogue has already started with the digital standards leadership through the CIO Strategy Council and TECHNATIONca’s responsible technology council.
Second, modernizing digital infrastructure is key to developing a successful digital strategy. For example, our federal government can and should transition to a more cloud-based approach, like some of our international colleagues have done; the UK has already done this with great success! A cloud-based government allows for the development and adoption of more business innovation and applications; it will increase interoperability between governments and business; and will drive a more seamless digital strategy.
“Modernizing digital infrastructure is key to developing a successful digital strategy.”
Third, education and awareness of the need for technology adoption across various industry sectors and segments is an integral component. Enabling Canada’s SMEs to understand the benefits and adopt a cybersecurity or AI strategy will be critical in keeping our nation competitive. Considering a strong digital workforce is, and will continue to be, a global challenge. The current government funding that goes into workplace-integrated learning (WIL) and the development of hybrid work/learning skills programs is a crucial injection to digital workforce development. Programs like WIL, which refers to co-ops and internships both in STEM and non-STEM programs, is a government-funded program that TECHNATIONca executes with industry partners and business across Canada. Great examples of government/industry initiatives to face Canada’s tech talent challenge head-on include Ryerson University’s Magnet program, Roger’s Cybersecure Catalyst, the Cyber Talent Alliance and Palette.
Besides our youth and current students, we also have a large part of our workforce that is already educated, but would benefit from new skills training. A focus on continuous education for adults with great experience and skill sets should be a focus, enabling them to upgrade their technology skills – a benefit to our society and to our economy. As an example, the Future Skills Centre is currently focused on the skills transition of a very diverse workforce.
What must be done to increase the competitiveness of our SMEs so that they can grow into Canada’s next national or global champions?
Canada is finally realizing that we are losing competitive ground when it comes to our SMEs and tech scale-ups. Historically, challenges have included everything from a more risk-averse investment culture in innovation compared our colleagues in the US, to the issues I’ve already discussed, which include being able to ‘get business in Canada’ through Government procurement, which procures billions of dollars of technology, to the more recent challenge of finding, affording and retaining tech talent.
It’s great to sell internationally, but at the end of the day, while scaling a technology business, selling to your own government has many advantages. Canada needs to buy from Canadian corporations.I can’t tell you how many SMEs I’ve worked with, in defence, health-tech, and other sectors, who have secured great business internationally, but have been unable to sell at home.
“A more deliberate strategy of larger corporations to enable or engage the SMEs and scale-ups as part of their supply chain could result in a win-win for all.”
As the saying goes ‘big tech floats all boats’. Our SMEs could also benefit from being an integral part of the larger corporations’ supply chain, either through development of customized innovation or applications.A more deliberate strategy of larger corporations to enable or engage the SMEs and scale-ups as part of their supply chain could result in a win-win for all.Several of our big-tech members already have specific programs in place, including IBM, Microsoft and Google, to name a few. Our many government-funded accelerators support business development programs as well. However, there is still much work to be done to create a more risk-averse culture in investing in our own tech scale-ups.
How does Canada perform in terms of tech adoption and in preparing our current and future workforce for the technology that will impact work in the future economy?
Although Canada is a highly innovative nation, only recently have we shifted our culture and reputation as a conservative investment culture in innovation compared to our US counterparts. We are also laggards when it comes to the adoption of specific technologies. As an example,while Canada is considered one of the forward thinkers and researchers in AI, if you look at the stats, we are way behind many other countries in terms of how quickly we are getting on board with and adopting AI technology. We are currently moving down the annual Bloomberg innovation index to 22nd behind Slovenia.
There are several barriers to tech adoption. These include a lack of awareness and understanding of how specific technologies will help a company – such as taking customer data to the next level with AI; little understanding of how best to implement a cybersecurity plan with lack of in-house security expertise; and high implementation costs.
“While Canada is considered one of the forward thinkers and researchers in AI, if you look at the stats, we are way behind many other countries in terms of how quickly we are getting on board with and adopting AI technology.”
Canadian companies need to understand that there is also a cost to not transitioning and not getting on board. The questions businesses must ask themselves include: “How we can finance the technology our companies need to implement?”, not “when.”; “What does it cost to be cyber-secure and cyber-ready?”, versus the risk of not adopting a cyber secure environment; “What does it cost to implement technology to facilitate greater customer service?”
Canadian multinationals and success stories like Shopify are driving greater awareness, while also supporting the tech sector. But we also need to focus on the less technologically-driven sectors and help them to catch up. After all, technology is a vital component of the current and future economy, no matter what sector.
In terms of digital workforce development, Canada needs an aggressive multi-sector approach for ‘tech workforce readiness’ to meet the rapid growth for various tech skills. Educational institutions, along with industry, must ‘co-create’ agile education/on-job-learning working opportunities so that we have an adaptive workforce and a culture of continuous learning in our educational institutions and across our workforce.
“Canadian companies need to understand that there is also a cost to not transitioning and not getting on board.”
We need to examine the different segments of the national talent pool, so that every individual and role is considered in the preparation of creating our talent pipeline. For example, TECHNATIONca’s program for AI awareness has been targeted to pre-university youth, to increase awareness of the many diverse professions and skills a career in AI can lead too in the future economy – in other words, developing the pipeline deep into the educational system.
As we speak, unique tech skills required in industry move faster, in some cases, than educational institutions or national occupational codes can keep up with. If we look at the analytics and trends on sites like LinkedIn, jobs are popping up that did not exist six months ago. How is a university or college going to keep up with that pace if they are building programs that are two to four years long?