According to a 2014 release of Statistics Canada data, Canada continues to decline in its commitment to innovation. The portion of Canadian businesses investing in process innovation fell from 33.5% in 2007-2009 to 29.0% in 2010-2012. Similarly, innovative businesses in Canada fell from 76.3% to 60.1% in the same time period.
This decline is alarming. Innovation needs to be a top priority in order for Canada’s economy to stay competitive. It is easier than ever to reach export markets, however a business’ offerings now need to be able to compete on a global level. Developing nations with lower labour rates, the abundance of automation technologies, and the prevalence of e-commerce have created a more competitive business environment than ever before. It is imperative then, that Canadian businesses must seek their own competitive advantage through innovation.
Academic and Business Partnerships
The Canadian education system is one of the top in the world. According to The World University Rankings of 2015-2016, three Canadian universities rank among the top 50 globally. We have the domestic talent and institutions required to innovate; Canadian businesses need to harness this opportunity to stay competitive.
There are a wide variety of post-secondary collaborative initiatives and departments available to industry partners. Connect Canada and Mitacs Accelerate are two research grants specifically designed to match post-secondary students with industry partners via R&D internships. The purpose of these internship programs is for students to contribute their knowledge and their institution’s resources towards a business research project, while providing work experience to the intern.
Other programs, such as the NSERC Engage and NSERC Collaborative R&D (CRD) grants, allow businesses to outsource key technical problems and testing to post-secondary institutions. The government will contribute funding dollars, the business will provide in-kind and cash contributions, and the university will dedicate professors, students, and resources to solving these problems.
The Canadian government is continuing to support this type of collaboration. In 2014, the IRAP Business Innovation Access Program (BIAP) was launched to promote industry-academic collaborative research activities, while contributing research and development funding vouchers towards the successful completion of the project. Although this is a pilot program provided by IRAP, it highlights how the government has identified these types of collaborations as a key driver to innovation in Canada.
Industry Collaboration and Clusters
Mentor Works speaks at industry association events across Ontario and we see the benefits of knowledge transfer between industry partners. Knowledge sharing is critical to knowledge transfer. Industry partners must voice their challenges, opportunities, and growth focuses in order to allow the entire sector to prosper. I’m not insinuating that businesses should open their entire playbook to their industry; there might be competitors listening after all! The importance is in strengthening other players in your supply chain. If you can help other partners build a stronger supply chain to compete on an international scale, your business will benefit directly. Likewise, businesses should be seeking knowledge and feedback from any relevant source, as well as pull insight from other industries as well.
Industry Experts & Workforce Development
Finding and retaining high-skilled labour is a critical component to fostering innovation within a business. In fact, 58% of the 803 participants of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) Management Issues Survey 2014 identified “attracting and retaining skilled labour” as their most pressing challenge. 50% of those same respondents planned on increasing their training budget by at least 10%. This is encouraging news, as professional development and high-skilled training is another key pillar to innovation. Employees will be more motivated, better equipped to solve business challenges, and business owners will see positive correlations with training and retention rates.
The Canadian government offers dedicated training incentives to subsidize the cost of workforce development with the aim of promoting innovation, productivity improvements, and business expansion. The Canada-Ontario Job Grant was launched in 2014 as a six-year initiative and will cover up to 66% of eligible third party training costs in small business grants. Other programs, such as the FedDev Ontario Training Program, will support up to 50% of internal and third party training initiatives that spur productivity and export expansion amongst Ontario manufacturers. The CME SMART Advanced Technologies for Global Growth offers small business grants to help Ontario manufacturers tap into third party expertise for knowledge transfer in evaluating new technologies and assisting with the implementation of advanced systems and equipment. It is clear that the government is committed to encouraging workforce training. Businesses need to commit to the development of their human resources in order to foster an innovative environment.
Inspiring Innovation in your Business
All of these components are pivotal to creating an innovative business culture. Take a look at your business. Do you tap into the excellent post-secondary resources available to Canadian businesses? Are you sharing knowledge with your industry and network partners? What is the professional development plan of your workforce? Having clear answers to these questions will help your business stay competitive both domestic and abroad. If cash flow is an issue, government grants and incentives are available to businesses and free workshops and webinars on small business funding programs are held regularly if you want to explore funding for Canadian businesses. Innovation is a result of dedication to the advancement of the industry. Make sure your business has the components required for innovation and you are setting yourself up for success.