Skills for the AI Generation
- Literacy in digitization and AI will allow employees to focus on creative thinking, problem-solving and managerial goals.
- Flexibility, adaptability, and perceiving the world in new ways is what takes innovation to the next level.
- A collaborative culture between academia and industry will create ground-breaking research and innovation that solves complex problems, drives economic growth and creates a more skilled workforce.
The Prime Minister should recognize the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy as a good first step in developing Canada as a leader in AI, but it needs sustained funding. Research takes time, and long-term funding will enable researchers and entrepreneurs to take on bigger risks, tackle larger problems and ultimately grow the Canadian economy in a meaningful way.
What are the main forces shaping the future of work and innovation, and what impact will they have on Canada?
Canada has been at the forefront of innovative development and Geoffrey Hinton, one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, is at the University of Toronto. Implementation of AI is already happening, we just need to pick up the pace.
What we are seeing is that with the adoption of new technologies, there is a broadly collaborative approach between different sectors, disciplines and organizations. More specifically, the adoption of artificial intelligence is already enhancing certain tasks and freeing up more time for employees to focus on decision-making, creative skills and managerial goals.
Collaboration between startups, big companies, academia, government and non-profits are bringing together different perspectives, knowledge and approaches to tackle problems more efficiently. This allows us to work on solutions and respond to larger needs, essentially providing solutions for the broader common good of Canada.
What are the skills needed to drive innovation in Canada’s future economy and in AI in particular?
Literacy in digitization and AI is essential, as well as training, in order to employ machines to aid with low-value tasks. As humans, we need to work on cognitive functions such as critical thinking when approaching problems and understanding and analyzing data. Approaching a problem from different perspectives and thinking creatively gives us a competitive advantage now that the job market has been reshaped. Flexibility and adaptability to perceive the world in new ways when it comes to business, products, services or investment opportunities is what takes innovation to new levels.
More specifically, training on how to leverage new tools and resources to enhance human capabilities will increase the comfort level of the current workforce to use AI to enhance their roles, increase productivity and have a broader impact on the Canadian economy. Continuous education in privacy security, as well as ethical AI, will bring forth the need for responsible use of the latest technologies, and confidence in how to use this technology safely will increase adoption and integration of AI.
“Flexibility and adaptability to perceive the world in new ways when it comes to business, products, services or investment opportunities is what takes innovation to new levels.”
Last but not least, leadership is important in inspiring and guiding employees through new circumstances, and we already see the results of leadership in addressing remote teams and flexible work policies due to COVID-19. Leadership not only adjusted to the new environment quickly, but also ensured that the employees who are not physically in the same space stayed connected.
Why are partnerships between industry and academia important for ensuring Canada’s future innovators have the skills they need?
Academia and industry should work together to identify the skill sets needed due to technological advancements, and then implement more training programs for students, young researchers and entrepreneurs to address these new skill sets and provide opportunities to apply and hone them.
Both parties should teach each other and learn from each other. Academic institutions are leaders in teaching, learning, research and technology but universities know that some problems cannot be solved in isolation, in a lab. Feedback and guidance from the industry are key in taking an invention or product from conception to market. On the other hand, industry has insights and real-world experience, but it should also learn to keep track of the latest scientific developments, and academic processes and skills, such as the ability to scrutinize, debate and share experience.
“Academic institutions are leaders in teaching, learning, research and technology but universities know that some problems cannot be solved in isolation, in a lab.”
Collaboration is key to both academia and industry for achieving their own goals. Working together in order to achieve a business benefit or a common goal will reshape the way individuals work together, not only across scientific teams or disciplines, but also across organizations, sectors and geographical borders. This kind of collaborative culture can produce ground-breaking research and innovation that solves complex problems, drives economic growth and creates a more skilled workforce. Both universities and industries should work outside of their research goals to boost the entrepreneurial sprit of their students and employees respectively.
We know that thousands of startups have been created at universities, which shows that academia is not only leading in science but also pushing the boundaries, and companies can support these efforts and learn from them.
What is the ideal collaboration model between academia and industry to help prepare our future workforce?
Industry and academia are two crucial stakeholders in the exchange of knowledge and technologies, so partnerships between them should be structured in an integrated way. Both parties should understand their own and their partner’s problems. Both industry challenges and research gaps are important in this process in order to develop mutual initiatives and to tackle them. This will enable both sides to identify and develop products that they would not be able to do by themselves. And while it is easy to celebrate successes together, challenges are even more valuable in this process. It is crucial that challenges are dealt with in an open-minded way in order for all of us to move forward.
While universities and industry enjoy symbiotic relationships, society also benefits from a trained workforce, answering today’s most pressing challenges and creating technology to improve lives. Mitacs is an example of a work-integrated learning program for graduate students that is structured as a partnership between academia and industry. It facilitates integrated learning from both partners and combines scientific discovery with the application and implementation of academic research. We definitely need more programs like that.
What are your recommendations for industry and employers to help workers develop the skills they need?
Employers can help nurture young talents through internships and mentoring programs. Mentoring plays an important role for the development of non-technical skills, which will prepare students for careers in industry. In this way, employers will help students to acquire relevant expertise for job placement long before they are employees.
Our flagship initiative at Borealis AI is our internship programs across labs in Canada, which advances the next generation of AI experts. In addition to internships, we collaborate with organizations such as AI4Good Lab and Athena Pathways to provide mentorship and support for female students and graduates in tech as they enter the next stage in their careers. Our research institute is also supporting the development of AI expertise through our Graduate Fellowships program. For instance, this year, we have awarded fellowships to 10 students working on a variety of research fields that largely focus on using AI to advance healthcare and well-being.
“Companies should build capacity to capitalize on new research and technologies by investing in R&D, employing more scientists and integrating them with business operations in order to have a more diverse pool of skills.”
Employers should help cultivate and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset, which means that students or employees are in a position to choose a career path, a career change or even create one. Similarly, companies should build capacity to capitalize on new research and technologies by investing in R&D, employing more scientists and integrating them with business operations in order to have a more diverse pool of skills and create the workforce of tomorrow.
What and who would you pitch to improve skills development for Canada’s future innovators?
I would choose to pitch to the Prime Minister. I would tell him that the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is an excellent first step, but it needs to be sustained with continuous support and funding if we are going to see significant results in the future.
We know that research takes time, so investing in the long-term will give academics more time to take extra risks, tackle bigger, open challenges and problems. By doing so, this will improve society, create new opportunities for young Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs, and help the entire Canadian economy grow in a meaningful way.