Canada has New Opportunities on AI Research and Innovation

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the world’s largest countries and corporations, in all sectors, had initiated massive investments in applied artificial intelligence (AI) to address a myriad of business and social priorities. Canada, to date, has lagged in applied AI investment. It now has an opportunity, and in the case of COVID 19, a necessity, to turn the tide according to a new Report released today by the national Canadian tech industry association, TECHNATION.

The global health crisis is highlighting the vital role that AI plays across the economy, from the search for a vaccine and epidemiological management, to the reinvention of supply chains and online education. AI tools facilitate economic and social mitigation responses, and it is projected that demand for AI-related skills will remain robust as economies recover from the pandemic.

The Report, titled Skilling Canadians for Leadership in the AI Economy, demonstrates that, although Canada is a recognized force in AI research and innovation, demand for AI skills and adoption of AI technologies across the economy is uneven in a few leading sectors and startlingly lacking in most.

“Canada has crucial competitive advantages, including superior education systems and a skilled and diverse workforce. The current health and economic crisis are a powerful reality check that now more than ever, Canada can not afford to lose competitive ground in AI research and innovation.  We must take action to ensure that every company and Canadian citizens, have the resources to leverage and succeed in the AI economy.  Failing that, Canada will continue to lose our influence on the world stage,” explained Angela Mondou, president and CEO, TECHNATION.

Currently, too few Canadian companies, educators, policymakers, and future leaders  understand AI’s capabilities and limitations. The Report highlights other key concerns:  

  • Demand for AI skills is unevenly distributed, resulting in an emerging two-tier AI economy of leaders and laggards.
  • Public sector organizations are underinvesting in AI.
  • In many sectors, there’s limited understanding within management of what AI can and should mean for their organizations.
  • Not enough schools deliver AI courses and programs to meet demand; this is limited by not enough available AI educators.
  • Upskilling from a traditional (non-AI) technical career into an AI-focused one can be challenging requiring new skills and new ways of working. Upskilling supports are needed.

To address Canada’s changing tech landscape, the Report includes an innovative AI Jobs and Skills Framework that provides a starting point for workforce planning, skills development and labour market analysis. It also includes a roadmap – a series of recommendations – to help employers, educators and governments make informed decisions regarding AI leadership and implementation, workforce development, staffing and training.

“Arguably, this is the reskilling imperative of our times, and an immediate call to action for government, industry and academia,” added Steve McCaughey, managing partner, Technology and Transformation, Deloitte. Deloitte is one of many industry leaders that provided input into this Report.

Skilling Canadians for Leadership in the AI Economy was developed by TECHNATION and funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.


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