As John Manley prepares to deliver his first federal budget, the high-tech sector points to many of its own best practices as a possible means of advancing Canada’s economy and quality of life.
At press time, the 2003/2004 federal budget was scheduled for release on Feb. 18. The anticipation
of Manley’s inaugural effort after taking over from Paul Martin is even higher given the publication of Industry Canada’s innovation strategy and the Romanow report on health care. Both documents stressed the importance of information technology in making Canada a dynamic global economic player. The IT sector is now anxiously waiting to see if the budget picks up on the recommendations the reports made.
There should be a major focus placed on skill development in the Canadian workforce, for example, if the country wants to maintain an economic growth momentum, says Association of Canadian Community Colleges president and CEO Gerry Brown. Spread across 900 Canadian communities, colleges and technical institutes are in a unique position to provide training for new workers. They can also be a resource for businesses looking to further the skills of their employees, he says.
Professional development can be a real challenge for Canada’s small and medium businesses, Brown says. They know there is a need to further the skills of their employees but most don’t have the infrastructure necessary to provide courses on their own. Colleges, however, can make development possible by linking up businesses with similar training needs with appropriate courses, reducing the burden of cost. Colleges are also becoming an e-learning resource for SMEs.
“One of our institutions in Lavalle (offers) a retail training program all online. The small retailer can have a set of basic courses and as they hire people they don’t have to put them through a training program, a person can do it online from the convenience of home,” Brown says.
E-learning and connecting businesses with skill development resources is nothing new, he adds. Work has been going on in these areas for a number of years, but development has been fuelled by colleges and industry without any major support from the government.
“The challenge is always in the area of funding from the point of view of resources, whether they be financial, human or material. And so it would be really helpful to have a third party at the table,” Brown says.
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), meanwhile, is hoping for a little less government presence, according to national director of public affairs David Paterson. CATA has recommended that in order to create greater levels of economic prosperity shared by all Canadians, innova