Changing Technology Creates Opportunity and Challenge

Northern Power Port of Thunder Bay
Port of Thunder Bay - From the middle of North America to the world.

european unionTHUNDER BAY – Business – Changing technology is generating opportunities and challenges. Following the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, the European Union is moving forward to realize opportunities. The European Commission is issuing a call to action to companies, governments, educators, social partners, employment service providers and civil society to join us in a massive effort to “turn the tide”. Young Europeans should have the tools to enter digital careers or to create jobs as entrepreneurs.

Changing Technology

Europe faces up to 700.000 unfilled ICT jobs and declining competitiveness. The number of digital jobs is growing – by 3% each year during the crisis – but the number of new ICT graduates and other skilled ICT workers is shrinking.

“Our youth need actions not words, and companies operating in Europe need the right people or they will move operations elsewhere,” states European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes. “The digital skills gap is growing, like our unemployment queues. We need joint action between governments and companies to bridge that gap. The ICT sector is the new backbone of Europe’s economy, and together we can prevent a lost generation and an un-competitive Europe. So I am expecting concrete pledges by companies, everyone I meet will be getting the same request. The Commission will do its bit but we can’t do it alone – companies, social partners and education players – including at national and regional level – have to stand with us.”

Increasingly, the European Union is moving toward a “Knowledge-based Economy”.

Changing Technology in Northwestern Ontario

Northwestern Ontario Innovation CentreThe situation in Thunder Bay, and in Northwestern Ontario mirrors the global situation. Nick Kolobutin from the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre says that “While there are opportunities, the problem is a labour shortage of qualified professionals”.

The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre is working toward building greater capacity in Northwestern Ontario.

“Throughout my 18 years, serving as the MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, I have always been a strong advocate for investment in the north,” states Michael Gravelle the MPP for Thunder Bay Superior North and Minister of Natural Resources. “I look forward to continuing to build on our government’s strong track record of supporting research and development, while bringing new funding to the region to strengthen the northern economy”.

Michael Gravelle MPPGravelle adds, “Certainly the government’s investments in research and development at Lakehead University over our time in office and the significant role we have played in building the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute into an organization that has helped develop a widely diversified economy and created new jobs in Northwestern Ontario speaks strongly to that on-going commitment.”

“Right now the focus is on the digital divide but the foundation on which such divide rests is the lack of essential skills and literacy,” adds Frank Pullia, Business Chair of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board. “This trend is not new and has been recognized in Ontario and Canada many years ago and has resulted in a renewed sense of collaboration between industry (including the Chambers of Commerce), government (municipal, provincial and federal including economic development agencies), employment service providers and Workforce Planning Boards”.

Frank Pullia
Frank Pullia

“The North Superior Workforce Planning Board’s on-going partnership with literacy and basic skills service providers and Literacy Northwest speaks of our involvement with skills gaps within the digital economy and growing number of employers that tell us that the majority of people applying do not have the essential skills employers need,” shares Pullia. “There are nine essential skills including: reading, writing, document use, numeracy, computer use, thinking skills, oral communication, working with others and continuous learning”.

The route forward will require making solid partnerships between business, governments, educational institutions from the Lakehead University, Confederation College, Secondary Education Institutions, and groups like Contact North, and the NAN Northern Education Authority.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli comments, “The Ontario PCs recognize there are serious gaps in our current labour market.  In our knowledge-based economy there is a shortage of IT professionals.  In the skilled trades, we have a plan that could put 200,000 Ontarians to work simply by adjusting our apprenticeship ratios”.

Fedeli continues, “Our vision for the North must extend beyond our resource riches as our 21st century global economy is now primarily digital and will only become more so. We need to create the conditions in our private sector economy to seek opportunities for unique IT and digital innovation here in the North, and ensure we produce a labour force that supports that vision.  Advances developed here in the medical, agricultural and mining technology sectors, for example, can benefit the rest of the world. The digital economy is the great equalizer. It can enable Northern Ontario to compete in the global marketplace on an entirely new platform.”

European Commission Plan to Adopt Changing Technology

In moving to focus on the challenges, the Commission will collect pledges on new jobs, internships, training places, start-up funding, free online university courses and more. Companies such as Nokia, Telefónica, SAP, Cisco, HP, Alcatel-Lucent, Randstad, ENI, Telenor Group, ARM, as well as the CIO community, CEPIS (Council of European Professional Informatics Societies) and Digital Europe are in the first wave of those committing to act.

Then on 4-5 March 2013, the Commission will include pledges received from partners and build them into the launch of a Grand Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs at a major pledging conference. The conference is open to all who want to actively support this common cause.

We seek active collaboration in areas like industry-led training, assisting labour mobility, certifying skills, improving school and university curricula, raising awareness, and creating an entrepreneur friendly environment for start-ups.

One concrete area for action could be training vouchers. Successful German and Spanish voucher based training models provided jobs for 60-70% of the 20,000 participants and we should seek to replicate and scale up this idea on a European scale.

Other key elements of the Coalition will include mobility assistance. Such assistance is likely to range from English language learning support to facilitating mobility for unemployed persons and standardised certification of skills, via a transformed eCompetence Framework available in all 23 official languages of the EU.

In recognition of the job creation potential of web start-ups, the Commission is also launching Startup Europe, a single platform for tools and programmes supporting people wanting to set up and grow web start-ups in Europe.