Actua’s Response to the Government of Canada’s Announcement on the Pillars of the Innovation Agenda

June 14, 2016

Today the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development with the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and the the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, announced six areas for action that will shape the Government of Canada’s upcoming Innovation Agenda.

Actua fully supports these six areas of action, which we believe will form a comprehensive and outcome-focused agenda. World-class youth engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a critical foundation for each of the six areas of action. New and significant investment in this area will be essential to achieving the desired outcomes. We have outlined our perspective on how youth STEM engagement supports each area:

1. Promoting an Entrepreneurial and Creative Society

As reflected in today’s announcement, what’s central to promoting an entrepreneurial and creative society is building a strong innovation culture. A strong innovation culture understands, supports and advances the creative thinking and ideas necessary to drive current and future innovation. It is evident from the Minister’s announcement today that the intention is to build an innovation culture that is focused beyond corporations and institutions. A broad and inclusive innovation culture will set Canada apart on the global-stage.

Leveraging Canada’s diversity is an important component of this action area. Women currently represent less than 25% of the STEM workforce, a number that has changed only marginally in the past 30 years. These numbers are even lower when you look specifically at technology fields – a growing field that is shaping every aspect of our lives.

Indigenous Canadians must be well represented in driving the innovation agenda. In fact, the need to better engage Indigenous peoples in charting Canada’s future has never been more understood. Investing in mechanisms that bridge western science with traditional Indigenous knowledge will lead to significant innovations within all of the identified clusters. In this way, science could be an instrument for reconciliation.

Building skills to embrace global changes means that we are preparing youth with the competencies needed to thrive and adapt in the future. The focus needs to be on building those skills that will help youth thrive, adapt and drive innovation. These include creativity, risk-taking, collaboration, problem solving and a healthy view on failure.

By engaging over 4 million youth in the past two decades Actua and our university network members have contributed significantly to building a strong science culture in Canada, one that is now ready to take the next step to an Innovation culture.  The experiences provided by Actua and our network members are building innovation skills that will ensure they are prepared to lead and support Canada’s place on the world stage.

2. Supporting Global Science Excellence

Canada’s ability to lead world-class research is dependent on both the quality of education that Canadians are able to access and the support provided to lead innovation research. Early exposure to STEM – through experiences both in and outside of school is essential to ensure we are preparing the next generation of great science researchers. These early experiences should include exposure to current research happening in university and colleges across the country so that youth understand why research matters and what is possible through STEM.

Actua supports a network of 33 university and college based members that are connecting thousands of youth each year to leading Canadian researchers. Bridges must be made between youth exploring the science in their own backyard and how they can pursue such exploration through exciting careers in science research. 

3. World Leading Clusters and Partnerships

Identifying clusters where Canada has the potential to lead on a global scale while also focusing on the power of partnerships is necessary to achieving the economic prosperity desired by all Canadians.

Fueling these cluster areas must start with early investments – and this must move beyond  engaging youth in traditional STEM. It is important that youth have exposure to the areas of excellence where Canada will place focus. Engaging youth in areas like clean technology, health science, advanced manufacturing, digital technology and others gives them the necessary early exposure to Canada’s global reach and potential.

Working with leading Canadian and international companies, Actua is connecting current areas of excellence to what is relevant in their lives, through things such as Arctic health sciences camps, digital activities on agri-food, and a cross-country Makermobile tour promoting advanced manufacturing.

4.  Grow companies and Accelerate Clean Growth

Entrepreneurial talent will be essential to this area of action. Growing that talent bank will require developing entrepreneurial skills and competencies in our workforce starting early. This means providing youth with opportunities to build skills in STEM and then apply those through real-world entrepreneurial processes.  Marrying this entrepreneurial capacity with environmental stewardship will also accelerate clean growth.

Actua connects youth with mentors and role models in all areas of STEM through its Mentorship program. By engaging hundreds of mentors each year from a range of STEM fields, youth are exposed to hundreds of exciting and dynamic careers, and most importantly, helps youth see the person behind the career and to see themselves following in their footsteps.

5. Compete in a Digital World

Canada is behind globally when it comes to the development of a digitally literate population. With challenges around broadband access and a lack of digital content in K-12 education, Canadians risk getting even further behind. This is especially critical for underrepresented audiences like women and Indigenous populations. This is an area where strong leadership and action is required now to get us caught up.

Digital literacy not only includes being a proficient user of technology, but also having an understanding of how technology works and skills to create new technology. To compete in a digital world we must move beyond our current focus on hardware and infrastructure in schools to investing in content that connects digital skills to STEM and opportunities for youth to build new technology.

Actua, in partnership with Google Canada, is engaging over 100,000 youth over three years in Codemakers, our national digital literacy program. Codemakers engages youth in digital skill building experiences that move them from being consumers of technology to producers of technology. With hands-on learning, Codemakers inspires young Canadians to learn computer science as a pathway to invention and future discovery and to participate in new and emerging careers.

6. Ease of Doing Business

The ease of doing business with Canadians is critical to thrive in the global marketplace. Canadians need to be equipped to work with diverse audiences. We must recognize local and national economic development opportunities and proactively seek out industry, government, and research partners to create content that’s ahead of the curve. By doing so Canada will be recognized as a growing leader in the global marketplace.

Actua’s network members annually employ 1,000 undergraduate instructors who learn about a cross-section of market standards and regulations through their exposure to our industry partners who represent diverse STEM focussed corporations and government agencies. They're also uniquely equipped to work with diverse audiences. Diversity training and the ability to work with diverse cultural and socioeconomic groups is an asset to businesses with a global outlook.

Final thoughts

Youth are not only the innovators of tomorrow, they are the innovators of today. It is our strong hope that the federal government will not only recognize the critical importance of youth engagement in STEM, but invest more significantly in this area as an essential component to achieving their ambitious Innovation Agenda. Actua looks forward to working with the federal government as well as our network members and corporate partners in contributing towards a comprehensive and outcome-focused agenda. 

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