Innovation & Procurement


A strong STEM skillset helped the Canadian economy grow and thrive as an emerging first-world power. Now, as a part of a more mature player on the world stage, what can Canadian firms do to maintain or even grow their STEM-based competitive edge?

STEM skills have made critical contributions to the daily prosperity of Canadians. And yet, after decades of strong, resilient development, Canada is now a more mature nation. Future growth and innovation can’t simply rely on forward momentum from the past. Firms will need to develop systems and strategies to monitor, encourage, and stimulate further STEM innovation nationwide.

After all, STEM-based innovations are Canada’s ticket into the world of the future. That’s not in dispute. However, there is uncertainty about which skills offer the best opportunities, and how the base level of STEM understanding can be raised in the next generation to drive growth and prosperity. Here, some of the top skills, their supporting systems, and available resources for interested businesses will be discussed.

STEM skills function as key business performance indicators among highly developed nations. Yet not all STEM skillsets lead to equal amounts of growth. Given what’s known about the world of tomorrow at this point, which STEM skills need to be cultivated to maximize Canada’s competitiveness on the world stage? A first place to start is the online world and all the skills needed to support a global migration to digital-first. The most recent 18 months showed that the digitized future is closer than many thought. This includes programming, engineering, and mathematics to support logistics infrastructure, robotics, and the interface needed to blend reality with the metaverse ahead. Of course, underpinning all of these online tools are the hard earth resources needed to support them. Canada’s mining and manufacturing sectors also need engineers, scientists, and developers to model and refine the next generation of sustainable resource development. In this way, Canada can reinforce it’s internal supply chains and position itself for dominance as an innovative provider of essential metals, raw materials, and complex finished goods.

Firms who wish to stimulate STEM innovation within their workforces must provide the right supporting frameworks. While a certain amount of STEM prowess can be hired in from University, on the job and on-project training is essential. Plus, talent that is developed and grown in-house – and that believes the best opportunity for future growth is within the firm – will outlast and outperform market-rate talent that can be hired and poached on demand.

To build highly functional internal STEM support frameworks, business leaders should consider a plan, organize, and lead system. Based on designs from McKinsey, this system can help remove barriers to the firm’s long-term growth as a STEM leader by promoting innovation in high-growth areas.

In the planning stage, the firm should consider which areas of potential competitive advantage it wishes to promote. What are the firm’s existing strengths, and how would a STEM skills investment boost innovation and new product development in these areas? By mapping desired future strength to present advantages, companies are more likely to build a STEM function that can deliver tangible and visible bottom line impacts.

Next, firms need to organize their goals into STEM skills enhancements. This may look like an investment in deeper-level STEM recruitment to capture promising talent earlier in their careers, or the development of an apprentice system for new hires to up-skill new hires faster. It might look like developing a talent pool to ensure vacancies don’t hinder development projects, or like dramatically increased budgets for research priorities.

Finally, firms must continue to measure and track their STEM results. Spending on talent and equipment inputs needs to translate to appropriate outputs, or the spending is misallocated. Canada can only continue to be on the leading edge if its financial resources are supporting its innovation resources in an output oriented way.

Of course, Canadian firms looking to develop new systems and strategies for the STEM part of their business aren’t operating in isolation. Support and resources – including curricula and funding – are available for many industries and regions. For students – and research shows that companies in need of talent should be paying extra attention to younger students – there is CanCode and MindFuel. CanCode targets K-12 students and teachers to improve the nation’s digital skills and coding talents – particularly for historically underrepresented and under-resourced communities. Alberta-based MindFuel also supports Canadian youth at the K-12 level, with the aim of helping help them move STEM concepts outside the classroom and foster a life-long sense of curiosity and desire for scientific experimentation.

For established adults, Innovative Superclusters is an initiative by Canadian Government to build innovation ecosystems. With over $950 million in funding to support STEM innovation, the nation’s five “superclusters” serve as Canada’s take on the Silicon Valley idea of pooling talent on key topic to enable cross-pollination and talent sharing. To date, the superclusters initiative has generated more than 350 approved projects and 250+ new intellectual property (IP) rights. Even better? Of the 1,600+ companies participating in superclusters projects, nearly half are small to medium sized businesses, helping accelerate Canada’s regional growth rates.

Even beyond that, large firms can find support in the funding and support available from entities like the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, among others. All-in-all, it’s clear that this is a national priority, and any firm wanting help simply needs to ask.

It can be overwhelming to try and build an innovative, world-class STEM-based society from scratch. Luckily, Canada’s already in a good starting position. From here, firms interested in further STEM-driven growth should establishing their goals, organize their resources, and build their systems. In this way, Canadian firms – and Canada itself – can increase the returns of STEM skills in the tomorrow world that’s coming up fast.