Karen Chad
Karen Chad
Vice-President, Research - University of Saskatchewan
Part of the Spotlight on Skills Development for Canada’s Future Innovators

Unleashing Youth Potential


  1. Canadian academic institutions and industry need to create programs that encourage lifelong learning and upskilling; assist workers with connectivity and mobility; and foster diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  2. Future innovators need a litany of skills, including reading, critical thinking, digital literacy, problem solving, as well as emotional intelligence, judgement and collaboration among others.
  3. Industry and employers need to encourage an ethos around hiring for core skills over credentials.


Canada’s greatest priority right now should be investment in our youth and leadership. If we find creative ways to unleash the skills of Canadian youth, they will launch an amazing future for themselves and all of Canada.

What are the skills that our future workforce and innovators need and why?  

The way I think about the skills needed for our future workforce and innovators is by placing them into two buckets. 

The first bucket are the skills such as reading, critical thinking, systems analysis, technology design, digital literacy, and problem solving. They also need flexibility, nimbleness and lateral thinking—such as creativity, innovation and fresh ways of thinking. Finally, risk-taking and communication are two skills future innovators need.  

Equally as important are the companion skills such as emotional intelligence, judgement, team building, facilitation and collaboration, as well as empathy, compassion, resiliency, community-orientated approaches and open-mindedness. Those are the two buckets, and we need both of them in spades.  

What kind of partnerships and programs need to be developed to help future workers build the skills they need?  

If you think about the social media platform LinkedIn, that is one type of program that we need. We need a program that is designed to create pathways and linkages between and among sectors—education and industry, education and community, and education and government. Then, when you peel the onion back further, we need programs around work-integrated learning and the way we place and connect our young people in various sectors.  

Canada also needs programs for lifelong learning, reskilling and retooling. The other programs that come to mind are foundational skill and career planning, which can be built in during kindergarten and run through Grade 12. We have to continue to monitor, measure and evaluate these for their achievements in helping us get to where we need to be as a country.  

“We need programs around work-integrated learning and the way we place and connect our young people in various sectors.” 

Other programs are those digital platforms, pathways and mechanisms that help the future workforce with training, job information, and connectivity. How do we get smarter in terms of the way we link in?  

Additional programs should focus on mobility. We often hear people talk about brain drain and brain gain from an international perspective—for me, it is about brain recirculation. We need mobility programs that not only connect different sectors with young people but connect Canadians with others geographically—from province to province or country to country. Canada needs our future workforce going out of the country, being ambassadors, and returning with that knowledge to Canada. 

Finally, the last type of program I would suggest—which we are really called upon as a nation to address—is one on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Programs for EDI need to be translated into action. Those are the programs that Canada needs.  

Do you have any recommendations to industry, government, employees or students?  

As we think about Canada’s future, we have to think globally and nationally what we need for the country in general, but then we have to break it down for each of us and our own area of responsibility.  

Industry and employers need to encourage an environment, attitude and ethos around hiring for core skills over credentials. They also need to have formal interconnecting programs with K-12 and post-secondary institutions. We need to do a better job at investing in research and development and the environment in R&D that is necessary for people to succeed. Industry and employers should also invest in leadership development for our young leaders.  

“Industry and employers need to encourage an environment, attitude and ethos around hiring for core skills over credentials.” 

The government can provide funding for reskilling, entrepreneurship programs and skills development. The government has to incentivize programs that support lifelong learning. We have to help develop that pipeline by providing the resources to K-12 and post-secondary institutions and to begin the lifelong learning process. The government, like industry and employers, must also focus on research development as well.  

In terms of employees and young students, I think of their commitment to being a leader, being engaged, and being empowered and involved. They are going through a tough time right now—how do we keep their hopes, dreams, aspirations and positivity at the highest level possible? How do we do that? Youth are the wind beneath our wings.  

My last point is the importance of volunteerism. The real importance of volunteerism is that it provides a vehicle to develop the skills that I mentioned previously. Not only the hard skills, but the soft skills of compassion, empathy, team building, community building and inspiration. Youth always bring that into a community, so we have to ensure that continues to happen.  

What would you pitch to improve how we educate and shape Canada’s future innovators and leaders? 

Our greatest priority as a country right now should be our investment in our youth and leadership. I would love to quote the beautiful RBC report, Humans Wanted, that said, “If we can find creative, new ways to support and unleash the skills of Canada’s youth, they would launch an amazing future for themselves and indeed for all of Canada.”  

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Karen Chad
Karen Chad
Vice-President, Research - University of Saskatchewan

Bio: Karen Chad is the Vice-President of Research at the University of Saskatchewan. She holds two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a PhD. Karen has been recognized as one of the top 100 of Canada’s Most Powerful Women and has also received the YWCA Woman of Distinction award and the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal.  


Organization Profile: The University of Saskatchewan is a Canadian public research university which was founded in 1907. It is located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and has more than 20,000 students enrolled. The university began as an agricultural college and still has access to urban research lands. The university is home to Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization