Addressing Skill and Training Gaps through Research & Innovation 

By Dr. Mehdi Sheikhzadeh
Vice-President, Research & Innovation, Lambton College

Colleges play a crucial role in supporting Canada’s economy through research and development (R&D), but these activities also provide pathways for colleges to identify and address our nation’s skill and training gaps. 

Research & Innovation (R&I) departments at colleges collaborate with industry through R&D projects to develop new and/or improve existing technologies, processes and products. Through the development and execution of projects, research and administration staff are able to identify the partners and other businesses’ training needs in that sector.

Furthermore, Industry 4.0 technologies including digital, automation and biotechnologies are affecting all industrial sectors as well as the need to acclimatize to remote and other modified working environments and service delivery models due to COVID-19. College R&I are on the frontline working to help companies with the integration of new and emerging technologies into to operations, products and services. Colleges have realized upskilling or reskilling is also required upon technology adaption. 

At its core, R&I operations are based on partnering and communicating with industry and are driven by the demand and focus of the sector. Colleges often employ Business Developers that are focused on connecting and developing partnerships from all sectors. In addition to promoting the R&D capacity, these Developers can play a critical role in identifying skill shortages and gaps and the need for the specialized training. Many of these business developers are hired to support Canada’s Technology Access Centres (TAC), the leading centres in college applied research, funded by NSERC. These specialized R&D centres assist businesses—particularly small and medium-sized enterprises by providing applied research, innovation technical services and specialized training. Because of their specific focus on specialized training, TACs have been a great catalyst to identify training gaps and develop required solutions.

It is also important to mention that colleges have built industry-focused, world class and state-of-practice resources and infrastructure for research purposes, which may also be used for targeted advanced subjects, particularly in the form of micro-credentials and customized trainings. 

All of the above mentioned efforts provide opportunities to identify and address skills gaps for both industry training and academic programing:

  1. Industry training can address these disparities through specialized courses, labs, workshops or competency-based training solutions (e.g. micro-credential) to upskill or reskill existing employees. 
  2. Identified required competencies can also be embedded into existing courses or establish new academic programs to prepare future workforces. R&I can communicate and collaborate with other college departments including co-operative placement, skill trades and corporate and career services that prepare students for the workforce upon graduation and can make these departments aware and prepared to address industry needs. As well, R&I is active in the development of not only new technologies but also the emergence of new industries and can provide this knowledge to the academic and student service departments to anticipate, pivot and modify programs and services as required.  

The R&I departments in colleges have the capacity to position Canadian colleges at the forefront of supporting industry to adapt to a world with constant evolving skilled workforce challenges in addition to helping industry with their R&D goals.