Re­sis­tance is fu­tile — against au­to­ma­tion

Nearly half of Cana­dian labour force at risk of switch to ma­chines within two decades

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY DANIEL KOMESCH Daniel Komesch is a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst with Poly­tech­nics Canada.

OT­TAWA - Au­to­ma­tion has be­come a scary word. As new tech­nolo­gies pro­lif­er­ate, un­ease and un­cer­tainty sur­round the labour mar­ket of the fu­ture.

Will jobs be de­stroyed? Cre­ated? Can a ro­bot re­ally re­place what I do? What kind of ca­reer should my child pur­sue if we don’t know what the jobs of the fu­ture will look like? How can I re­train?

If new stud­ies are to be be­lieved, nearly half of the Cana­dian labour force is at high risk of au­to­ma­tion in the next 10 to 20 years. But what does that re­ally mean for to­day’s — and to­mor­row’s — work­ers?

The re­shap­ing of economies due to in­no­va­tions in tech­nol­ogy is a chal­lenge that has per­sisted across time - econ­o­mist Joseph Schum­peter con­sid­ered it to be the es­sen­tial fact about cap­i­tal­ism: tech­nolo­gies emerge and economies are forced to tran­si­tion.

In the face of a tran­si­tion­ing econ­omy, we only have one choice: em­brace and adapt. So, look­ing ahead to an au­to­mated fu­ture, where should Canada con­cen­trate its ed­u­ca­tional en­er­gies?

The so­lu­tion should be co­op­er­a­tional - which means tap­ping all of Canada’s re­sources as we adapt to the needs of the fu­ture. So politi­cians and pol­i­cy­mak­ers would be wise to look be­yond the usual play­ers.

One of the av­enues for­ward in­cludes em­brac­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions that are al­ready used to work­ing hand-in-hand with in­dus­try — which means they’re al­ready ac­cus­tomed to per­pet­ual in­no­va­tion.

I’m talk­ing about poly­tech­nics. Poly­tech­nics are pub­liclyfunded col­leges and in­sti­tutes of tech­nol­ogy that of­fer a full suite of cre­den­tials, in­clud­ing four-year bach­e­lor’s de­grees and ap­pren­tice­ships, while also of­fer­ing in­dus­try a range of re­search and de­vel­op­ment, and in­no­va­tion ser­vices. Pro­grams are skills-in­ten­sive and tech­nol­o­gy­based, en­com­pass­ing hands-on and ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing.

Poly­tech­nics al­ready have tight con­nec­tions to Cana­dian in­dus­try, built through their in­no­va­tion ser­vices and ad­vi­sory groups made up of in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives. So they tend to know where labour mar­kets are headed, and care about the skills nec­es­sary for the jobs of to­day and to­mor­row.

For ex­am­ple, Hum­ber Col­lege in Toronto de­ployed its Elec­trome­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing - Au­to­ma­tion and Ro­bot­ics Ad­vanced Di­ploma pro­gram in re­sponse to a man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor that has faced tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tion. This pro­gram de­vel­ops skills in in­dus­trial au­to­ma­tion, ro­bot­ics, con­trol sys­tems, ma­chin­ing, hy­draulics, pneu­mat­ics, mecha­tron­ics and au­to­mated weld­ing. Its grad­u­ates get jobs.

Calvin Kimura grad­u­ated from the pro­gram in 2013 and af­ter first work­ing as a ro­bot­ics tech­ni­cian at global man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Magna, he now owns and op­er­ates CK Au­to­ma­tion, which sup­plies busi­ness with a full suite of au­to­ma­tion ser­vices from de­sign, de­vel­op­ment, build, in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance.

That’s how in­no­va­tion and job growth hap­pens. And it didn’t come from the lab - it came from a poly­tech­nic ed­u­ca­tion aligned with in­dus­try needs.

Yet poly­tech­nics are of­ten ne­glected by pol­icy-mak­ers. Their sis­ter in­sti­tu­tions, uni­ver­si­ties, get the pol­icy lime­light. But as many as 30 per cent of stu­dents at­tend­ing a poly­tech­nic have pre­vi­ously at­tended univer­sity. That num­ber is on the rise.

Why? Poly­tech­nics are par­tic­u­larly good at a key com­po­nent: con­nect­ing the sup­ply and de­mand sides of the labour mar­ket. This is es­pe­cially valu­able as new tech­nolo­gies emerge that re­quire the adop­tion of new skill sets.

One way poly­tech­nics an­tic­i­pate labour mar­ket shifts is through their pro­gram ad­vi­sory com­mit­tees, com­prised in part of in­dus­try lead­ers.

Mike Cy­bul­ski, direc­tor of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment at RAMP Inc., an­other au­to­ma­tion pow­er­house, has served on Con­estoga Col­lege’s pro­gram ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee for the Ad­vanced Di­ploma in Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing Tech­nol­ogy in Kitch­ener, Ont. Cy­bul­ski ad­vised in­struc­tors on how to de­sign their cur­ric­ula so that grad­u­ates are im­me­di­ately em­ploy­able in the field. RAMP it­self em­ploys ap­prox­i­mately 30 Con­estoga Col­lege grad­u­ates — cer­ti­fied tech­nol­o­gists and trades­peo­ple.

Ad­vis­ers like Mike em­pha­size the need for poly­tech­nics to of­fer a broad swath of cre­den­tials and to grow mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary tal­ent - both nec­es­sary for an in­no­va­tion or au­to­ma­tion econ­omy.

If the es­sen­tial fact about cap­i­tal­ism is cre­ative de­struc­tion and the nec­es­sary re­shap­ing of economies, then gov­ern­ments need to see poly­tech­nics as the eco­nomic ac­tors they are and bring them into the in­no­va­tion pol­icy dis­cus­sion.

Poly­tech­nics adapt, em­brace, and thrive in the face of eco­nomic chal­lenge and change. Canada is on the verge of be­com­ing an au­to­ma­tion na­tion and poly­tech­nics say, “Bring it on.”

If we are to har­ness all the tal­ent we have, it’s time Canada’s pol­icy-mak­ers rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of poly­tech­nics among the ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to Cana­di­ans.

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