Aug 9, 2018


As a trading nation Canada relies on the competitiveness of global exports for its economic prosperity and security. International trade accounts for 31% of its gross domestic production (GDP) and 16.7% of all employment. British Columbia is particularly poised to leverage the social and economic benefits of global value exchanges, with economic and investment relationships established in the large Asian countries of China, India, Japan and South Korea. Asian market demand sustains 20% of BC’s jobs and nearly 40% of its global exports.

However, a projected supply deficit in key occupational sectors poses a significant risk to BC’s growth potential. In a 10-year forecast of labour demand in 31 key Engineer, Geoscientist, Technologist and Technician occupations, the Asia Pacific Gateway Skill Table found that by 2024, net available positions could reach 11,555 and that pending retirements could contribute an additional 31,150 job openings. Moreover, it is expected that 90% of the labour demand will have to be supplied by new-entry employees and skilled immigrants since experienced professionals recruited from related industries will probably fill just 7% of the net openings.  

However, the chorus among many business leaders is that while Canadian university graduates enter the workforce with world-class domain-specific skills, they do so with relatively little experiential knowledge entrepreneurship, customer intelligence, team building, and value creation. Moreover, business investments in research and development has declined for a decade. A number of government-supported initiatives have been launched to speed-up innovation and to create new jobs, but Canada continues to lag behind its global peers.

Owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and business start-ups will likely assume a disproportionate share of the responsibility for onboarding new-entry employees and developing the soft-skills needed to compete successfully in a knowledge-intensive global economy. Many managers of advanced research and development-intensive companies report that there is a significant talent gap among recent university graduates.

The pressure for SMEs to develop their in-house expertise could also intensify if international students, a principle source of new immigrants, begin searching for education alternatives in Asia. For example, China has designs on becoming a global education hub with a plan to attract 500,000 international students by 2020.  

The good news is that reducing the learning curve among new-entry employees and scaling-up organizational learning does not have to be prohibitively expensive.

Knowledge Mobilization as a Catalyst for Innovation

Knowledge mobilization is more than getting the right information, to the right person, at the right time. Knowledge mobilization encompass a wide spectrum of processes and techniques designed to enable productive exchanges across multiple and diverse audiences. It is a fast-developing profession which uses multi-disciplinary practices and techniques to disseminate evidence, research, and expertise in support of intelligent decision-making.

There is no single model that applies universally across all business sectors, not-for-profit organizations, or professional associations. Regardless of the process or methodology used, knowledge mobilization is most effective when relevant products and services are accessible, timely, clear, and meaningful for the end-user. Optimal exchange value is created in conditions where creative thinking, technically-enabled communication, and social learning are actively promoted.

Leveraging Human Capital for Strategic Advantage   

Whether they are activated to gain market advantage in the global economy or to disseminate lessons learned within a localized community of practice, productive knowledge exchanges are always tethered to an interactive engagement process. It often begins with individuals who are inherently curious about the world and who appreciate that learning is a life-long commitment.

Productive knowledge exchanges are often activated by generous acts of sharing among individuals and among different organizations at the tactical level. Enduring social and economic value is created when loosely structured networks of highly-engaged individuals and assets are activated to brainstorm novel ideas, synthesize unique insights, build bonds of trust, and to tackle ambiguous problems.

Decision-makers who prioritize the development of soft skills – analytical skills, cultural intelligence – will foster greater resilience and agility across the organization, giving them a competitive advantage over their rivals. Likewise, immigrant entrepreneurs and business start-ups will develop a better understanding of their vulnerabilities prior to partnering with a business incubator. Additionally, municipal and First Nations leaders who have made strategic investments in developing a well-designed knowledge infrastructure will gain valuable insight to their political and economic risk exposure.

Enterprising organizations interested in building a baseline capacity that can be scaled-up should think seriously about employing a dedicated knowledge mobilization officer. This will raise the efficiency and effectiveness of knowledge exchanges, lower institutional and cultural barriers, and mitigate the risk of sudden or unexpected talent loss.    

A well-design knowledge infrastructure will also enable decision-makers to pivot more effectively when confronted with technological disruptions. Rapid technological growth is forcing a profound rethink of our economic, social, political, and physical infrastructures. These structural changes will soon require the adoption of new cognitive and behavioral capabilities, many of which will be incredibly hard to anticipate (eg., “unknown unknowns”).

Knowledge Gateway to a Sustainable Economic Future     

If Canada is to remain a middle-tier power that can successfully compete in Asia, it will need to foster diverse learning environments which remain responsive to dynamic market conditions and which maximize human capital development.

The next-generation workforce is likely to work longer hours, change their careers more often, and migrate among occupations that don’t currently exist. A near-term future in which low-skilled labour is devalued or rendered obsolete by technological advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality, makes the discovery of new knowledge sources a political as well as an economic priority. Downplaying or ignoring these political and economic realities could imperil our collective future.

In that context, establishing an effective knowledge mobilization strategy that is scalable, agile, and forward-looking will be key to driving future creativity and innovation among SMEs and other enterprising organizations, both regionally and nationally.

Although it is impossible to predict what a sustainable economic future will look like in the next five to ten years, frugal investments in knowledge exchanges will help to enable new forms of economic productivity and to build the cross-functional workforce needed to remain globally competitive.  

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