Recently, the federal finance minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth recommended the creation of a national organization — the FutureSkills Lab — to serve as a laboratory for the development and measurement of skills. This proposed laboratory represents a significant and progressive advance that can increase Canada’s global competitiveness and offer its citizens the economic and social future that they seek.
It focuses squarely and clearly on the importance of skills, particularly those related to success in the workplace. People today are part of a dynamic and fast-moving labor market where they can expect to change careers five or more times during their working lives and where they will be competing for jobs that do not yet exist and that we cannot yet contemplate. This means that skills like being adaptable and resilient, and being able to analyze and shape large amounts of information into solutions that can be implemented effectively are critical attributes of job success, and necessary for future jobs in a knowledge-based economy. Jobs aside, these skills enable individuals to make important personal decisions about, for example, the best medical treatment to choose and, as a society, what changes are needed to sustain Canada’s social safety net.
The FutureSkills Lab proposal identifies the critical questions we must seek to ask and answer, and acknowledges what we do not yet know. What are the critical skills that workers will require and in what situations? How can these skills be measured? How can they be taught and learned effectively and efficiently? The proposal accurately acknowledges that there are groups across Canada working on some of these issues. But, our current efforts are uncoordinated and fragmented. An issue as important as the skill set of Canadians deserves better. The FutureSkills Lab has the potential to serve as an invaluable complement, coordinator and clearinghouse for these efforts to highlight the best ideas and to develop and disseminate the best solutions. The FutureSkills Lab’s emphasis on testing and evaluating the best ideas and solutions is a welcome addition to the current skills debate in Canada that relies so much on anecdotes and hand waving.
The FutureSkills Lab proposal identifies the key players that will be instrumental to achieving the goal of training workers with the right critical skills. Our education institutions? For sure. But the proposal rightfully identifies the significant role of the private sector. Many recent reports have stressed the need to amplify the role and contributions of business and the private sector in improving Canada’s competitiveness and innovation performance. As designed, the FutureSkills Lab has the potential to engage the private sector more genuinely and effectively in this national effort, including integrating its contributions better with those of our higher education sector.
Lastly, the proposal puts forth a progressive and creative governance model for the FutureSkills Lab that takes the critical issue of skills development and measurement out of the hands of possible political tinkering, thus allowing it to serve as a true evidence-based organization and data-driven laboratory for the best ideas and solutions. This is not without precedent. As the advisory council’s report notes, the Canadian Institute for Health Information is an independent, arm’s length, national data-collection agency that serves the needs of the federal and provincial governments by providing important health information and policy advice. The FutureSkills Lab proposal argues that the issue of skills is no less fundamental and significant to the country and its future success. It’s a compelling argument.
Regular readers of HEQCO blogs and reports will appreciate why we resonate to the FutureSkills Lab proposal. Its major themes are consistent with ideas we have been promoting for some time: the shift from content to skills; the need for skills assessment; the importance of experimenting on different kinds of experiential education and work-integrated learning opportunities and assessing the quality and value of these opportunities based on rigorous assessment; and the role of third parties in creating progressive policies.
We often criticize government for short-term thinking and making decisions that only serve to increase its chances of re-election. The FutureSkills Lab proposal is an example of strategic, innovative, long-term thinking to create institutions and processes that invest in the long-term future success of its citizens and country. On that basis alone, the proposal is refreshing and courageous. Its thoughtfulness and the prescience of its details are equally as impressive. Lets’ get on with it.
Thanks for reading.
Harvey Weingarten is president and CEO of HEQCO