Printer icon Print Page

Top Story

New Conference Board Economic Indicator

The Conference Board's newly launched Composite Leading Index shows that the Canadian economy will grow in the first half of 2014 — but only modestly. The Index rose 0.3 per cent in December matching the gains made in both October and November. This trend signifies that the economy is growing, but Canadian growth will not pick up the pace until later in the year. The Composite Leading Index sums up the performance of ten components that track the short-term course of the economy.


The Falling Loonie

The biggest economic story of the new year has been the fall of the Canadian dollar. The Conference Board's assessment is that the drop in the dollar, if sustained, would have a small positive impact on economic growth in the short term. Some exporters may stand to benefit, but a declining loonie will also hit all Canadians in the pocketbook. More important than the value of the loonie is the signal it sends about the Canadian economy.

Taxis: That other supply management system

Shopping for milk and hailing a cab are two everyday activities that do not seem to have much in common. Yet, they are more alike than they appear at first glance. Dairy products are managed by a complicated system under which the amount to be produced is predetermined. Taxis are organized much the same way. Taxicab service remains tightly controlled even during times of high demand, such as the holiday season.

Why a Canadian Food Strategy?

Food impacts our lives, our health, our jobs, and our economy. Since 2010, the Conference Board's Centre for Food in Canada has been bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to create a Canadian Food Strategy—one that will meet the country's need for a coordinated, long-term strategy on industry prosperity, healthy and safe food, household food security, and environmental sustainability. The strategy will be launched at the 3rd Canadian Food Summit 2014: From Strategy to Action on March 18–19 in Toronto.

Measuring and Managing Innovation

It is perhaps the worst-kept economic secret in the country. Canada does not take advantage of its innovation capabilities, and that is impeding its growth potential. Canadian firms can use metrics to improve their innovation activities and competitiveness. However, almost 40 per cent of Canadian companies don't measure the success of their innovation activities at all. Of those firms that do, most use the kinds of measures that don't actually link well to their organizations' bottom-line results.

Conference Board of Canada One of the National Capital Region's Top Employers

The Conference Board of Canada is proud to announce that it has again been recognized as one of the National Capital Region's Top Employers for 2014. This marks the fifth time in seven years that the Conference Board has been named to the list of top employers in the Ottawa region. A key to our success is our ability to attract and retain outstanding talent, and this recognition only strengthens our position as an employer of choice.

CBoC Highlights

Photo of the Hon. Jason T. Kenney Photo of Vijay Gill

Satyamoorthy Kabilan, Director, National Security and Strategic Foresight, delivered a presentation on security and intelligence at the Canadian International Council dinner that aired on CPAC on January 18.

Pedro Antunes, Director, National and Provincial Forecast, discussed Canada's December job losses and the economy on CBC's Power & Politics on January 10.

In This Issue

  • New Conference Board Economic Indicator
  • The Falling Loonie
  • Taxis: That other supply management system
  • Why a Canadian Food Strategy?
  • Measuring and Managing Innovation
  • Conference Board of Canada One of the National Capital Region’s Top Employers

Previous Issues


MyService—The Toronto Police Service’s Journey on Transforming its Culture
Sep 16 at 2:00 PM

Latest Blogs

Necessary, but Insufficient: STEM Skills for Innovation

May 05, 2015
Daniel Munro
Principal Research Associate
Public Policy

Is Canada’s weak innovation performance a result of having too few people with advanced skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? Many policy-makers, business leaders, and others seem to think so, and, at least in theory, the view makes sense. Innovation and productivity improvements often emerge from new technologies whose development, adoption, and effective use require one or more STEM capabilities.

On the Conference Board’s Report Card on Education, Canada earns a “C” grade and ranks 12th of 16 countries in terms of the proportion of graduates from STEM fields produced annually, while on the Innovation Report Card, Canada earns a “D” and ranks 13th. Although we have many graduates in life sciences, we are especially weak in engineering and computer sciences. And while immigrants are a key source of STEM skills—holding 51 per cent of all STEM credentials in Canada despite constituting only a quarter of the adult population—poor credential recognition means that too few are employed in positions that use their STEM skills.1 On a first cut, then, it is plausible to think that weak STEM skills may be impairing Canada’s innovation performance.

In a recent report, however, an expert panel convened by the Council of Canadian Academies takes some wind out of the sails of the view that a STEM skills deficit is to blame for weak innovation performance. In its report Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity,the panel, led by David Dodge, reaches a number of important conclusions, three of which have particular relevance to the question of whether STEM skills matter to innovation and whether Canada has enough.

1. No STEM Skills Shortage

After examining employment and unemployment data, wages, and STEM education and occupation matching, the expert panel concludes that “there is no evidence of a current imbalance of advanced STEM skills nationally.”2 The two notable exceptions to this are life sciences professionals and engineers (including civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical).3 And although the report acknowledges that there may be regional and sectoral mismatches, it notes that assessing these mismatches is hampered by limited data. These are important conclusions that many need to hear.

Still, this does not fully answer the question of whether Canada’s weak innovation performance is, at least in part, a result of insufficient STEM skills. A key point to remember about innovation is that it involves creating or doing something new—either new to the world or the firm. A supply and demand analysis can tell us whether there is a shortage, surplus, or balance of STEM skills based on current business activities. But we know that the status quo is one of weak innovation performance. So while the panel’s conclusion entails that Canada has sufficient STEM skills simply to muddle along in the low innovation performance category, it does not tell us whether more and better STEM skills could stimulate more and better innovation. Indeed, the analysis tells us little about which skills researchers and entrepreneurs might draw on as they discover, develop, and implement new products, processes, and services, and those they will draw on to create new science and technology-based businesses.

2. STEM Skills for an Uncertain Future

Recognizing the limits of a static labour market analysis, the panel considered which STEM skills might be needed in the future. It is a difficult question to answer given that changes in technology and increasing automation will “profoundly alter the nature of work”4 and make labour market predictions even more challenging. As such, the panel cautions against investing heavily in specialized practical training given the risks it entails for individuals and society. “Changes in demand for niche skills over time,” they note, “may result in obsolete or undervalued skills, and deep investments in one area come at the cost of not investing in other skills.”5

To prepare for an uncertain future, the panel recommends investing in fundamental STEM skills—such as reasoning, mathematics, and computational facility (numeracy); critical thinking and problem solving; and the ability to apply these skills in technology-rich environments.6 Not only do such skills ensure that all citizens have a measure of STEM literacy, they also provide a foundation for some individuals to pursue higher-level, advanced STEM skills development opportunities in the post-secondary institutions and the workplace. In short, fundamental STEM skills “equip individuals with essential tools that are required to adjust to change, which is [of] benefit considering future labour market uncertainties.”7

3. STEM Skills Necessary but Not Sufficient for Innovation

Finally, the panel offers a good reminder that while we (and they) believe STEM skills are important to innovation, the evidence to support the belief is limited. While existing evidence is consistent with the belief, the panel notes that the story of skills that contribute to innovation is much richer. As they write, “STEM skills are necessary but not sufficient for innovation and productivity growth.”8

The panel emphasizes that there are many different kinds of, and dimensions to, innovation, all of which draw on a range of STEM and non-STEM skills. For every technological development, there are design and marketing requirements that can make or break market success. For companies with portfolios of product and process innovations under way, there is a need for management skills and expertise to assist with decisions about resource allocation, prioritization, and timing. Moreover, as the panel notes, “complementary skills, such as communication, teamwork, and leadership, are also important in and of themselves, as well as to maximize the impact of STEM skills.”9

One key take-away from the report, then, is that while efforts should be made to ensure that future employees and entrepreneurs have fundamental STEM skills, we also need to educate and train people to develop skills and knowledge in, and an understanding of, the arts and humanities, social sciences, management, and other fields. The development of innovative technologies requires STEM skills. But, ultimately, technology is for human use and thus requires a clear understanding of what it means to be, and to behave as, a human being.

Follow Us

1    Statistics Canada, Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2014), 15.

2    Expert Panel on STEM Skills for the Future, Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity (Ottawa: Council of Canadian Academies, 2015), xiv, 33.

3    Ibid., 67.

4    Ibid., 61.

5    Ibid., xv.

6    Ibid., 6.

7    Ibid., xiii.

8    Ibid., xv.

9    Ibid., xv.