April 30, 2015

Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity

The Expert Panel on STEM Skills for the Future

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Summary

Canada has one of the most highly trained workforces in the world. The skills and abilities of Canadians have played a key part in ensuring that Canada has one of the highest standards of living. Maintaining and developing Canada’s strength in this regard is a central pillar for future prosperity. Rapid technological advances, complex social and health issues and dynamic global markets require that the Canadian workforce has the right balance of skills to take advantage of emerging opportunities, challenges, and innovations.

In an effort to obtain the latest evidence on the subject, Employment and Social Development Canada asked the CCA to assess Canada’s preparedness in meeting the future skill requirements for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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The Question

How well is Canada prepared to meet future skills requirements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)?

Key Findings

Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity covers a broad area of issues such as: the relationships among STEM skills and innovation, productivity, and growth; whether Canada has a shortage or surplus of STEM graduates; what future demand for STEM skills in Canada could be; considerations for developing a STEM-literate society; the role of post-secondary education, and immigration and the global market.

To conduct their assessment the Expert Panel identified three types of STEM skills. Fundamental skills include reasoning, mathematics, problem solving, and technological literacy. They are important regardless of occupation. These can be learned at an early age. Building on these are, practical skills developed through training in technologies, applied sciences and the trades, and advanced skills that enable engagement in discovery or applied research — including development of new technologies.

  • Supply and demand for STEM skills have been balanced at the national level, over the long-term. However, there is room to improve in the quality and level of STEM skills held by all Canadians.
  • STEM skills are necessary but not sufficient for innovation and productivity growth.  A balance of skills must be struck. Leadership, creativity, adaptability, and entrepreneurial ability can help maximize the impact of STEM skills.
  • Long-term economic outcomes matter. A focus on narrowly specialized STEM skills development to meet short-term labour market requirements may have little relevance for meeting long-term skill requirements.
  • It is not possible to definitively determine what skills and knowledge will be required for the jobs of the future.
  • To build capacity and maximize Canada’s potential for innovation, evidence points to the value of early childhood interventions to strengthen fundamental skills.
  • Proactive, long-term strategies to keep a range of economic options open include investments in building fundamental STEM skills while maintaining Canada’s capacity for producing advanced STEM skills.
  • Support for under-represented populations in STEM is important for broadening Canada’s STEM skill supply.
  • STEM skills are global skills. Emigration is more than offset by immigration. Overall, Canada does not appear to be losing skilled individuals.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on STEM Skills for the Future