The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many workplaces to innovate rapidly in order to simply survive. But innovation is a critical component of our economic prosperity even during normal times. To be successful, Canada’s skills strategies must address skills for innovation across sectors from solo entrepreneurs, to small and medium-sized businesses, to large corporations – and even within government itself. While Canada has made significant efforts to foster a strong innovation economy, the pandemic has helped to reveal where these efforts have created strong foundations for success as well as areas where much remains to be done.
Much has been made of the negative effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy, and the disruption, upheaval and chaos created among the workforce when the world was forced to shut down en masse. But the pandemic has also fuelled a surge in innovation, as necessity forced businesses, governments and individuals to find ways to adapt. Not only has it driven the creation of new technologies, it has driven the development of new products and services, changes in processes, the development of new business models, and even shifts in the approach to work itself.
Yet much still needs to be done to ensure that Canada can keep pace with the accelerating rates of change that characterize today’s economy and society, to say nothing of building sufficient resilience to overcome the current pandemic and prepare for similar future shocks. Canada has among the highest rates of investment in education and research and development (R&D), but these investments are not translating into the desired improvements to productivity, successful technological commercialization, or increases in GDP.
If innovation is the key to our economic prosperity, Canada’s skills strategy must address the skills needed for innovation across sectors – from small and medium-sized businesses to large corporations and even within government itself.
In this context, this report explores:
- The definition of innovation and its connection to entrepreneurship and skills;
- The impact of on innovation, particularly in small- and medium-sized enterprises; and
- The implications for the definition, assessment, development and utilization of skills.
Prior to the pandemic the innovation discourse was defined by fairly narrow understandings of innovation and a disproportionate focus on the technology sector. This preoccupation with the tech sector, tech innovation and highly skilled tech job creation has had the unintended consequence of excluding large segments of the economy and society from the innovation conversation. The arrival of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of new business models, new ways of working, new ways of marketing and distributing, the critical importance of supporting technology adoption – and the skills needed for this adoption – as well as the creation of new technologies. In other words, we need to think more broadly about both what constitutes innovation and about the skills required to enable it.
The arrival of COVID-19 has not only highlighted the critical importance of specific skills for specific roles that have changed or expanded, but also the skills needed to anticipate and respond to shocks to the system. Among these skills are those needed to continue to transform both the public and private sectors, to create and scale entrepreneurial ventures and to create and implement new strategies and new business models.
At the same time, there is a need to support strategic initiatives that aim to improve access to training and decent work opportunities for all Canadians to capture their innovative potential. In this context, assessing and consciously addressing skills gaps has become more important than ever, particularly the skills needed to continue to promote and consolidate gains from innovation in digital workplaces. New working arrangements have created massive challenges for some and news kills are needed among both employers and employees to navigate these new arrangements, as it is clear that a return to normal may not mean a return to the office as it existed before the pandemic.