The federal government’s $221-million investment into innovation internships must include colleges and polytechnics

This op-ed was initially published in the Hill Times on June 21, 2017


When parliamentarians return to their ridings for the summer recess, they will have many opportunities to congratulate this spring’s crop of post-secondary graduates, proud of their achievements and eager to take their place in the workforce.

Students with a credential from one of Canada’s colleges, institutes, or polytechnics—be it a diploma, a bachelor’s degree, or a graduate certificate—have plenty to offer prospective employers. Their skills have been honed in programs designed explicitly to meet industry needs and in educational settings that prioritize hands-on experience and exposure to the real-world demands of today’s jobs.

These graduates have been trained on the latest equipment, software, and tools and are full of new ideas and fresh approaches which can fuel innovation and make companies successful. The federal government’s quest for inclusive growth and building a strong middle class will be well-served by the class of 2017.

Now it’s time that parliamentarians supported this group by ensuring that students of colleges and polytechnics are not shut out of a promising federal fund set aside to further develop post-secondary graduate skills.

Measures in the most recent federal budget promise to accelerate the integration of this year’s graduates into the workforce, unleashing the innovation skills that Canada’s business community so urgently needs to remain competitive in the global economy.

The members of our associations—comprising more than 125 educational institutions located in every province and territory—especially welcomed the government’s investment of $221-million in work integrated learning placements for post-secondary students and graduates. These placements are to be provided through Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization offering research internships that connect students with industry.

While details are still being worked out, the 2017 Budget language appears to open the Mitacs door to college and polytechnic students and graduates for the first time. Until now, companies that wanted to access the research talent in Canada’s post-secondary institutions have been —to their frustration—restricted to university students in master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral programs.

There is ample evidence that Canada’s R&D workforce requires a far more diverse set of credentials, with a strong need for skilled technicians, technologists, designers, and developers capable of translating theory and ideas into tangible innovations and real outcomes.

Opening Mitacs research internships to colleges and polytechnics will accelerate innovation and growth in three important ways. First, it will provide students and graduates with the chance to play a lead role in an applied research project supported by both an employer and college faculty, a form of work experience that goes well beyond what they would get in a typical entry-level position. Second, it will give companies—especially small and medium-sized enterprises—access to highly-skilled individuals who have the capacity to develop products and solutions that can be commercialized in the short-term. Finally, it will deepen the connections between industry and our colleges and polytechnics through the sharing of facilities, equipment, and expertise.

These exchanges create and strengthen the inter-personal and inter‑organizational relationships that form the bedrock of leading innovation ecosystems around the world.

Both Colleges and Institutes Canada and Polytechnics Canada have long advocated for Mitacs programming to be opened to our members, their students, and their industry partners. We congratulate the government for the inclusive signal that funding for innovation internships will be open to “postsecondary students and graduates.” The eligibility of college and polytechnic students for Mitacs is an all around “win”: for business, for our students and for the government’s inclusive talent strategy for innovation. And, above all, for Canada.

Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada

Nobina Robinson, CEO, Polytechnics Canada