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Tools for the workplace: federal initiative promises to boost innovation and collaboration. (Government Issues).

A recently launched federal government Innovation Strategy promises to help chart a course for economic growth and social development over the next 10 years. It sounds promising, but reaction from two of Canada's national business organizations is decidedly mixed.

Launched in two papers from the Industry Ministry and Human Resources Development Ministry, the strategy outlines goals, milestones and targets to improve innovation, skills and learning.

According to Industry Minister Allan Rock, its focus is to find ways to "create knowledge and bring it to market more quickly, secure a skilled workforce, support our communities as magnets for investment and make our business and regulatory policies attractive while protecting our quality of life."

The human resource component will equip Canadians "with the tools they need to participate in Canada's workplace, because a country with a workforce that knows a lot creates a lot," said Human Resources Development Minister Jane Stewart. "Their knowledge is now the currency of our economy and the factor that will ensure our continued social development."

Matthew Ivis, a policy analyst with Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says the strategy comes at the right time. "Innovation directly impacts productivity," he notes. "If you're innovative you become more productive. It's a goal shared by everybody."

But Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Catherine Swift believes the strategy is not specific enough. "The government has been talking about productivity for a long time but not much has happened. Another paper is fine but we're really waiting to see some action."

Still, the government says the strategy will push for collaboration and a new approach to encouraging innovation.

In Knowledge Matters: Skills and Learning for Canadians, the government calls for "a collaborative approach between all sectors of society to ensure Canadians have the tools they need to participate in Canada's workplace." Its goals include ensuring a more highly-skilled and adaptable workforce as well as attracting highly-skilled immigrants and helping them achieve their full potential in the Canadian labour market.

According to the report, Canada's level of formal workplace training is lower than in other countries. In 1995, 34% of Canadian workers received employer-sponsored, job-related training compared with 55% in the U.K. and 44% in the U.S. Small and medium enterprises in particular often lack the resources to invest in skills development, and the government will attempt to increase the annual investment by business in training-per-employee by one-third.

The second paper, Achieving Excellence: Investing in People, Knowledge and Opportunity, calls for establishing and meeting priorities in knowledge performance, boosting the innovation environment and strengthening communities.

While Canadian firms are quick to adopt innovations, new technology and business practices that keep pace with international developments, the paper says our level of investment in innovation is among the lowest of the world's leading economies.

Innovation goals include vastly increasing public and private investments in knowledge infrastructure to improve our R&D performance so that by 2010, Canada will rank among the top five R&D nations. Other targets include doubling the federal government's current R&D investments, raising venture capital investments per capita to U.S. levels and ranking among the world leaders in the share of private sector sales attributable to new innovations.

To ensure that public and business confidence remains high, the paper also calls for a target of complete systematic expert reviews of Canada's regulatory stewardship regimes of businesses by 2010-- and ensuring that the country's business taxation continues to be competitive among the G-7 nations.

"Maintaining our competitive tax system is vital," says Matthew Ivis. "And reviewing our regulatory system is important for business, as compliance costs are an inhibitor. Any money you invest in complying with regulations is money that you're not investing in your operations.

The strategy also encourages all levels of government to work together to stimulate the creation of clusters of innovation at the community level, ensuring that communities are home to new and emerging centres of competitive growth.

Rock and Stewart will pursue a national dialogue with representatives of business, labour and academia, aiming towards a national summit this fall to further develop opportunities and partnerships.

For its part, the CFIB remains unconvinced. Swift stresses that action, not talk, is the key.

Ivis says the Chamber will definitely maintain an involvement in the process. "We're committed to being as involved as possible in working toward some set goals. What we're looking for in the end is defining priorities. They're really going to have to set the priorities."

John Cooper (tymelco@sympatico.ca) is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Society of Management Accountants of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cooper, John
Publication:CMA Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:755
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