Higher education roundtable launches pilots for work-integrated learning and greater industry-academic collaboration

Mark Henderson
October 11, 2016

A high-profile group of business and academic executives is backing two pilot programs to boost work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities and foster more effective collaboration between academia and companies. Expected to launch in January, the pilots are the first initiatives of the Business Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), which was created by the Business Council of Canada (BCC) (formerly Canadian Council of Chief Executives) in early 2015.

BHER's platform has four main thrusts: helping students with the transition between the classroom and the workplace; the needs of Canadian employers; strengthening the linkages between R&D and large firms; and, finding synergies between research and teaching on campus.

The roundtable's programs come amidst an escalating global competition for talent and persistent concerns that investments in academic research aren't being effectively translated into commercial outcomes — most commonly reflected in low Canadian business expenditures on R&D.

"The WIL pilot will focus on the financial services sector and is being spearheaded by the Toronto Financial Services Alliance," says Anne Sado, president of George Brown College, chair of Polytechnics Canada and one of three BHER co-chairs. "There are five post-secondary education institutions involved and the initial goal is to increase work placements in the fintech and cyber security sectors."

BHER's inaugural WIL pilot will be followed by others with the aim of improving school-to-work transitions for young Canadians and meeting regional and sectoral workforce requirements. One area for a future pilot will be advanced manufacturing.

Less developed is BHER's pilot on research and innovation partnerships, which will be fleshed out when the group meets in January in Toronto. A working group has been struck which is chaired by Univ of Toronto president Dr Meric Gertler.

To inform its initial pilots, BHER has commissioned two papers. One on the innovation ecosystem was provided by Robert Dunlop, former assistant DM of Industry Canada's science and innovation sector. Sado says Dunlop's paper — which has not been publicly released — includes a "lay of the research and innovation landscape", focusing on best practices and opportunities, exploring the motivation for companies to form partnerships with post-secondary education (PSE) institutions and offering a list of common obstacles.

"Partnerships can take many forms. For colleges, applied research tends to be focused on SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) which is different from the university focus which is longer term," says Sado. "There are several potential options and work is underway developing tool kits, intellectual property policy and case studies."

For WIL, BHER secured the services of the Academica Group, which specializes in market research for higher education and evidence-based strategic consulting. It will assist BHER in launching a national campaign on the importance of WIL with a goal of ensuring that 100% of post-secondary students have some form of WIL training before they graduate.

Engaging with Innovation Agenda

At the same time, BHER is engaging in consultations for the forthcoming Innovation Agenda, either as a group or through individual members. Talent is shaping up as the key issue as policymakers seek strategies for bridging the gap between post-secondary institutions and industry.

Sado says there needs to be flexibility in the solutions to the skills shortage, adding that there's anecdotal evidence and some data showing a mismatch (in perceptions of the severity of the problem), particularly for skills required for entry-level positions. Industry typically finds that necessary skill levels are low while the PSEs contend they're higher. The mismatch appears to be more significant in certain areas but it's clear industry needs are changing.

"Policies have to reflect the broader ecosystem. There are some biases inherent in there," says Sado. "We've started small and built capacity but resources need to be scaled. We should now think about taking a bold and bigger step."

The BCC is taking a broader approach to its input on the Innovation Agenda. In addition to innovation and competitiveness and jobs and skills, it is also emphasizing energy and the environment, corporate and public governance, macroeconomic and fiscal policy, the North American marketplace and trade and investment

The BCC is also focused on growing the national network of incubators and accelerators, encouraging scaling up and clarifying foreign investment procedures.


BHER Members

Dr Elizabeth Cannon, (Co-Chair)

President & Vice-Chancellor, Univ of Calgary

Tom Jenkins (Co-Chair)

Chairman, Open Text Corp

Anne Sado (Co-Chair)

President, George Brown College

Dr Karen Barnes

President, Yukon College

Don Bureaux

President, Nova Scotia Community College

Paul G Douglas

President & CEO, PCL Constructors Inc

Darren Entwistle

President & CEO, TELUS

Dawn Farrell

President & CEO, TransAlta Corp

Dr Richard Florizone

President, Dalhousie Univ

Dr Suzanne Fortier

Principal & Vice-Chancellor, McGill Univ

Dr Meric Gertler

President, Univ of Toronto

Tim Gitzel

President & CEO, Cameco Corp

Dr Feridun Hamdullahpur

President & Vice-Chancellor, Univ of Waterloo

Robert Hardt

President & CEO, Siemens Canada Ltd

Linda S Hasenfratz

CEO, Linamar Corp

Cheryl Jensen

President & CEO, Algonquin College

Janet Kennedy

President, Microsoft Canada Inc

Kathy Kinloch

President, BC Institute of Technology

Donald R Lindsay

President & CEO, Teck Resources Ltd

Dr Ramona Lumpkin

President & Vice-Chancellor,

Mount Saint Vincent Univ

John Manley

President & CEO,

Business Council of Canada

David I McKay

President & CEO, Royal Bank of Canada

Marc Parent

President & CEO, CAE Inc

Dr Martha C. Piper

Interim President & Vice-Chancellor,

Univ of British Columbia

John C. Risley

President & CEO, Clearwater Fine Foods Inc

Dr Larry Rosia

President & CEO, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Dr David Ross

President, SAIT Polytechnic

Dino Trevisani

President, IBM Canada Ltd

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