State of the Nation 2008

2. Overall Assessment of Indicators

2.3 Talent Indicators Assessment

In a world where talent is everything, Canada must devote attention to developing the full potential of its citizens. At present, we risk being surpassed by others who are improving more rapidly.

Our 15 year-old students have one of the highest aptitudes for science, math and reading, but others are improving and so must we.

Two in five working age Canadians lack the skills to cope in a knowledge-based economy. As virtually no progress has been made in this area in a decade, this should be a major preoccupation for governments at all levels.

Our track record of investing in training in the workplace has also been poor for over the past decade. Those in the workplace must regularly update their skills in order to adapt to new innovations. In turn, employees can also be a source of innovative products, processes and services. Canada ranks first in the OECD in the proportion of its working age population attaining tertiary level education. We place 21st in the OECD, however, in the number of science and engineering degrees as a percentage of new degrees.

Although university enrolment in Canada is high in business-related fields compared to other fields, it is low compared to other countries. Canadian companies may therefore employ fewer individuals with advanced business skills than our international competitors employ.

Canada's capacity to innovate also depends on our ability to attract talented researchers and scientists. In the face of global competition, Canada must remain diligent in working to recognize foreign credentials so that skilled newcomers can contribute to Canadian society. Recent changes in the post-graduate work permit program and a fast-track immigration route for skilled foreign workers should assist attraction and retention efforts.

Canadians receive a disproportionate share of the world's major awards, doing especially well in the fields of the environment, medicine and technology. However, we have fallen behind in recent decades in attaining the very best awards: the Nobel Prize, the Wolf Prize, Fields Medals and others. Support mechanisms across the innovation system must drive research excellence and recognition of our top talent at international standards.