Across Canada, new digital technologies are enabling businesses to grow and develop globally-demanded products and services. In fact, information technology development will soon become the country’s largest economic driver, signalling that the Age of the Digital Economy is quickly approaching.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) refers to the coming Digital Age as the 4th Industrial Revolution, following past revolutions including:
- Steam Power;
- Electric Power; and
- IT-Related Automation.
Canadian companies must implement projects to adapt their business and become ready for this revolution. For many businesses, this means increasing innovative research and development spending and training employees to work with cutting-edge technologies.
How Will the Digital Economy Impact Canadian Competitiveness?
The 4th Industrial Revolution, according to WEF, will be characterized by “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” This future is “evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace… the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent.”
WEF believes that the 4th Industrial Revolution has the potential to:
- Raise global income levels;
- Improve global quality of life;
- Enhance supply chains through efficiency gains;
- Reduce the cost of trade and transportation; and
- Open up new markets and drive economic growth.
To become a part of this new digital age, Canada’s workforce must elevate its technical knowledge and skills to support this shift towards advanced IT technologies. It is crucial that Canada’s economy transition to become more focused on advanced skills, high-value products, and innovation.
“[Canada must] create a more robust, diverse economy that’s focused on innovation… The world needs more of Canada, but what kind of Canada does the world need? Innovative goods, innovative services. Let’s create the conditions for that kind of success.”
– Victor Dodig, CEO of CIBC, November 2015
Canadian Youth Are Being Prepared for the Digital Economy
The Wall Street Journal reports that an increasing number of educators are calling for computer programming to become a key part of every child’s school curriculum. More resources for teaching children how to create computer programs are becoming available, including programming games such as Lightbot, and books such as Bryson Payne’s Teach Your Kids to Code.
Many youth have already begun learning vital skills that will help the world transition into the digital economy. Online education programs such as Codestudio now reach 1 in 10 elementary school students in the United States. Non-profit organizations such as Code in the Schools are lobbying for computer programming in every child’s curriculum. In 2015, the United Kingdom became the first country to make programming a part of every child’s public education.
Canadian youth must also learn advanced computing skills so that they are ready to participate in the digital economy. The Huffington Post reports that computer systems design jobs will grow 11% by 2020, making it among the fastest growing careers in Canada. As the Canadian economy shifts towards digital jobs, and this trend will only continue to accelerate. If Canadian businesses are going to keep up with international digital economy growth, it’s imperative that young people are taught basic skills that form the basis of new technologies.
Canadian Government Funding Programs for Business Innovation
Fortunately, Canadian federal and provincial governments support the technology industry through a variety of strategic initiatives. Governments have created small business grants
for companies performing technology development projects and creating technology-centred jobs. Some of these funding opportunities include:
- OMDC Interactive Digital Media Fund: The Interactive Digital Media Fund seeks to bolster Ontario’s digital economy by providing government grants for the conceptualization and development of interactive digital media projects. Businesses may receive up to 50% of eligible expenses to a maximum of $50,000-$250,000 in government grants. Projects typically focus on cutting-edge digital media technologies that are planned and produced in Ontario.
- IRAP Accelerated Review Process (ARP): IRAP funding supports technical research projects that help businesses overcome internal technical challenges. The program may provide up to 80% of internal labour costs and 50% of contractors to a maximum $50,000 for software implementation, productivity improvements, and production design.
- Automotive supplier Innovation Program (ASIP): ASIP grants provide a critical source of innovation funding to Canada’s automotive industry. Businesses may be able to receive up to 50% of project costs to a maximum $10 million in Canadian government grants to develop prototypes, engineer new products, and test/validate new products or processes.
- IESO Conservation Fund: Ontario government funding is available for businesses using modern technologies and computing to reduce the amount of energy they consume. Several streams of funding comprise this program which may provide up to $1 million in government grants. Projects typically involve the implementation of energy conservation management programs, practices, and technologies.