Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 10, 2018—St. John’s, NL

Hosted by Lisa Setlakwe
Area of Focus: Unleashing Innovation

Highlights of Discussion

Data is a valuable resource for both businesses and Canadians at large that will help improve our competitiveness and quality of life. However, we must ensure we have up-to-date and flexible marketplace frameworks in place to support safety and security. We must also ensure that businesses and employees have the right digital literacy to make the best of data and other digital technologies.

Many businesses understand the value digital technologies can bring, but are unsure about which specific technology is best for them, and how best to implement. Canada must continue to innovate to compete globally, and we must do so at a rapid pace. We risk falling behind. Ensuring access to skilled talent, both at home and globally, will be key to sustainable growth.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Many regulations were conceived before we understood the true value of big data and current rules may restrict uses (eg. Health Data). Navigating different privacy rules in different jurisdictions can be challenging and restrict innovation. Need consistency and clarity on regulations. It can also be a challenge for global companies to traverse different data collection rules. Many are shifting to the use of trusted third party data storage.
Skills Shortage
Certain skilled positions (ie: software engineers) are challenging to find. This is a Canada wide issue, but is particularly felt in smaller communities. It can be hard to compete for limited talent, particularly small businesses and start-ups, as larger companies can hire most of the talent pool. Local Universities aren’t able to turn out enough graduates with necessary skills, so must look across Canada or internationally. Many companies are reaching out to young people directly in highschool or younger, to raise awareness about careers and job opportunities they may not know exist.  
Skills Gap
Businesses are experiencing a shortage of skills that are complementary to the hard tech skills including leadership and critical thinking. Companies are also having difficulty filling positions in sales. Those with high tech skills may not have the capacity to sell their product or attract investors. Need someone who can both understand technology, and sell to investors.
Post-secondary Institutes Unable to Grow
In certain areas it can be difficult for universities and colleges to grow departments due to limited resources. In particular it can be difficult to attract new instructors. Many of those with the right skills are given more attractive offers within industry. 
Work Integrated Learning
 Co-op placements are an effective way for students to learn new skills. People who graduate often aren’t ‘work-ready’ and require additional training. There is value for companies to leverage work-integrated learning, including some which have embedded training programs directly within their company.
We are seeing movement in industry to increase both general and gender diversity through progressive policies. However, still a gap. For women in STEM, exposure at a young age is key. Need greater awareness and mentoring for young women.
Canada is a risk averse country often waiting to see how something unfolds before jumping in. Many young people are taught to fear failure and risk. This can be detrimental as some companies see a significant productivity gap between operations in Canada and US where nothing is different besides culture. Other countries see technology as a competitive advantage whereas Canada seems to view it more as a necessary inevitability. This influence has broad implications as businesses may choose to move and invest in employees in other countries.
A key issue when introducing new tech to companies can be a lack of awareness of resources. Traditional, non-tech sectors or SMEs may not know what is available and how it can help their business.  
Global Talent
In a global economy, companies need to be able to bring in the most qualified people, even if this is outside Canada. This process needs to be quick and cost effective. International students are also a valuable resource and we must work to train and retain. This means providing meaningful work, and being able to provide opportunities and career advancement.
Shifting Work Culture
Younger workers are now looking for a more holistic work environment which is not necessarily driven by salary. Skilled workers have more choice, and many want lifestyle companies with progressive environments. This is causing organizations to have to adapt in order to attract and retain talent.
In more rural parts of Canada, many people do not have the same access to broadband. Programs which help support infrastructure are important for business as this allows them to compete. Canada should also consider its infrastructure for data storage platforms. This is a space where Canada can be a global leader.
 Cost of telecommunications in Canada can be restrictive for customers. The telecommunication environment is also driving investment in to other countries.

Ideas / Outcomes

Data Collection Standards
Canada could look to develop standards on how data is collected and maintained in order to develop usable databases. Standards could be sector specific and set by field experts.
Scaling Up Best Practices
The government could look to identify companies or sectors who exhibit characteristics of successful early adopter and target them to build capacity on a smaller scale. Successful practices could then be scaled-up. Could also “matchmake” companies who have successfully adopted tech with similar companies to tell their story. Industry associations would be a good resource to identify appropriate organizations.  
Research Data
Public repositories of research data can have broad utility if datasets across the country are amalgamated. The Tri-agencies could work closely with partners to focus on a few key areas where focused data repositories could benefit Canadians and fund to curate and maintain open access.
Data Partnerships
Certain sectors collect large volumes of data, but value in these databases could be increased through collaboration. Rather than fight internally, we must work together to build trust and partnership within Canada, so that companies are able to compete globally.
Work-Integrated Research
Universities could work to pair researchers with industry to help increase R&D within companies. This enables industry to increase technology development and helps researchers build expertise.
Work Visas for Spouses
Some companies look to hire global talent. However, under current program, spouses of visa recipients are not able to work. For some families this is a deterrent and has resulted in lost opportunities. Allowing for work visas for spouses may help attract highly skilled individuals to Canada.
Adjunct Professor Exchange
Many companies bring in world-class talent through international work visas. Universities could explore opportunities to tap in to these resources and bring in these skilled individuals as adjunct professors during their time in Canada to share their knowledge.  

Attendee List

  1. Canadian Patient Safety Institute
  2. Rutter Inc.
  3. ZedIT Solutions
  4. Lotek Wireless
  5. Killick Capital
  6. College of North Atlantic
  7. Genesis Centre
  8. Sequence Bio
  9. TotaliQ
  10. Compusult Ltd.
  11. Memorial University
  12. Tourism Culture Innovation
  13. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
  14. WISE-NL