Closing the “innovation gap”

The “innovation gap” that currently exists in Canada has been widely noted. As a nation, we continue to excel at scientific discovery, but much of the research generated ends up exported to other parts of the globe where these ideas and concepts are applied and brought to market. As a result, Canada continues to face the lowest research and development (R&D), invention and productivity improvement rates of all the G7 Nations.

Radio
Inside the CIUT radio 89.5FM studio with (left) host Stephen C. Armstrong and (right) Peter DeVita, P.Eng.

On May 4, OSPE member Peter DeVita, P.Eng., president of DeVita Associates and past-president of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), was on radio show Innovation Nation on Career Buzz, to share his insights on managing innovation talent, with a focus on Canada’s STEM graduates. Hosted by Stephen Armstrong, and with phone-in commentary from OSPE member Roger Jones, P.Eng., SMIEEE and councillor, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), the show delves into the requirements for aligning STEM grads with the needs of the real economy.

The show features some significant points of discussion, including:

  • The critical role of engineering in productivity improvement for wealth creation. Canada has the necessary engineering talent at our disposal, but we are not harnessing this knowledge and expertise, so that Canada can compete globally.
  • Canada’s mercantile-based financial system, which must evolve, so that we can provide the venture capital necessary to facilitate R&D in the “new world” – an innovation world.
  • Reference to OSPE’s 2015 Labour Market report, noting that there is a vast number of engineering graduates who would like to practice engineering, but who are facing a lack of appropriate job opportunities.

The conversation also highlights OSPE’s important role as the advocacy body for Ontario’s engineers:

  • Reminding government about the need to include the engineering voice in public policy discussion and in encouraging engineers to become more politically active.
  • Educating government on the need to invest in both “classical” engineering – such as infrastructure – as well as “new age” engineering – including manufacturing and the design of new products and processes.
  • Reiterating the need for engineers to continue to operate as part of a broad team. Engineers do not work in isolation, rather they frequently collaborate with other professionals, technicians, technologists, and the like.

Listen to the full show here. *The show begins at the 3:50 mark.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Are you and engineering graduate with an idea for some product or service or business that would help solve some problems in our world? But you’re not sure how to take it further? I’d like to know whether you are facing specific obstacles in moving from good idea to a funded endeavour. Speak up and let us know what you would need to make a difference for yourself and those around you if you were successful in bringing to fruition your good idea(s).

    1. Join http://www.MeetUp.com & search for “Engineering Innovation Eco-system”. OSPE is partnering with PEO Chapters to unlock the potential of Engineer+Entrepreniour.

  2. Are you an engineering graduate with an idea for some product or service or business that would help solve some problems in our world? But you’re not sure how to take it further? I’d like to know whether you are facing specific obstacles in moving from good idea to a funded endeavour. Speak up and let us know what you would need to make a difference for yourself and those around you if you were successful in bringing to fruition your good idea(s).

  3. You say….”The “innovation gap” that currently exists in Canada has been widely noted. As a nation, we continue to excel at scientific discovery, but much of the research generated ends up exported to other parts of the globe where these ideas and concepts are applied and brought to market. As a result, Canada continues to face the lowest research and development (R&D), invention and productivity improvement rates of all the G7 Nations.”

    WHAT IS THE MAIN PROBLEM?
    I believe that closing the innovation and productivity gaps is principally the roll of our own manufacturer and operating company community.
    If we continue to import too much of our manufactured goods and services from foreign countries, we take a pass at closing these two gaps. The scientists and engineers in Ontario can help them. They are here, and are ready, and are willing,, and are able. But a government just can’t say to universities ….”innovate please.”. The money spent on government ‘innovation’ programs might turn out to be money spent in a vacuum.
    Our manufacturers are making things and operating companies are doing things all day and every day. Their own experts and ‘on the floor…in the field” technicians see most clearly of all people what the innovation needs are. Government programs can harvest more for Ontarians by doing many things (and by not doing other things) to help them and encourage them. We know also that in Canada many manufactures and operating companies are aware of these facts but many of their managers prefer to aim for a good shareholder’s short term return and hence purposely fail to meet the financial challenges of innovation.
    Sure, governments should always help universities to train engineers and scientists, BUT let’s put the innovation gap problem onto the backs of our own manufactures and companies who operate right here in Ontario.
    Ontario could say to them …”Loosen up your shareholders’ purse strings”. “Be a Dyson and If you try to become one, we will find ways, policies and programs to help and not hinder”.
    Respectfully,
    Bill Goodings

  4. I discussed my first comment with a professional engineer working in the auto industry…a very innovative and proven key person working each day ‘on the line’ . Below are his comments…

    Hi Bill,
    You are correct with the statements……
    The critical point is that innovation begins with a solid manufacturing base….this is the only way relevant innovation can be driven (relevant i.e. useful and commercially successful).
    The point is not that manufacturing in Canada needs to be convinced to innovate…..the point is that manufacturing in Canada must continue to EXIST in order to have the opportunity to innovate.
    Innovation will always take place within the manufacturing environment….it is the prerequisite to existence within the manufacturing discipline.

    However, over the last 25 years, much of our manufacturing has been lost (disappeared) in this country. What can we do to prevent the manufacturing jobs from leaving….
    Or maybe more important, how can we encourage the manufacturing base to stay?
    The flight to low cost countries has a lot to do with pursuit of increasing shareholder returns year after year…..but at what cost?
    The decisions of chasing higher returns through low cost country outsourcing are boardroom decisions executed to achieve year over year shareholder return targets….at the expense of our domestic manufacturing base.
    I would argue that some European countries which have high manufacturing cost ie: labour cost (Germany) still have a thriving manufacturing base…..and have manufacturing companies which have existed for many years….
    If anything, they have innovated and transformed themselves over time to adapt to new demands…..but have not fled the homeland for lower cost countries.

    Why? and What is different in Europe vs North America?
    Maybe they have learned that over the course of history, no country has ever outsourced itself to greatness…….
    Maybe they have learned that long term sustainability is more important than short term gains.
    Maybe they understand that the greatness of a country or society can only be measured by the environment they pass on for future generations to succeed,
    Maybe, since their society has its history going back over 800 years, this knowledge is more basic to them than to us. This is the thinking that reflects a mature culture.
    How do we create an environment in this country where manufacturing is encouraged, and the skilled trades are respected and value is found in a thriving domestic manufacturing base?
    Once we achieve this …..we will begin to regain our status as a leader in global innovation.

    1. Hi Bill, thank you for your comments and for taking the time to further this discussion. We’ve shared both of your comments with our Research and Innovation Committee as food for thought. We find this subject very compelling and intend to explore this topic further through a future blog post. Feel free to email advocacy@ospe.on.ca if you have any further questions or comments.

  5. In a small country like Canada, innovation will never succeed at a global scale unless our elected politicians are prepared to support nation building projects and retain the intellectual property rights to the developed technologies for Canada’s benefit. Small companies don’t have the resources to do that and large companies are typically multinationals that don’t hold Canada’s interests as a priority.

  6. Although I agree with Paul, small countries like Sweden innovate all the time, with high costs of doing business. From kicking around many engineering organizations, I see a Canadian business culture that is averse to change and averse to risk. I believe that we innovate all the time, and we are actually a culture of innovators due to our long history of living in a harsh environment, with long distances between communities. But we are not good at marketing our innovations and we have a conservative business culture that is guided by our trading partners, instead of by ourselves. Not only are we hesitant to invest in innovation, we give away or sell what we do develop. We gave away the amazing technology of the Avro Arrow, we gave up on shipbuilding (trying to rebuild now), we gave away our supremacy in power generation technology years ago with the disbanding of Ontario Hydro and their research facility, we almost sold our nuclear engineering knowledge to foreign interests. For us to “bank” on our innovations, we have to stop asking for government handouts and be prepared to make the investment in ourselves.

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