Cross-sector collaboration essential in skills training for digital revolution

Earlier this year, a new partnership was formed between the Government of Québec and Siemens Canada. Siemens is investing $132.6 million in research, development, and training programs in the province – $22 million specifically targeted to an Industry 4.0 training system integrated into the workplace. The Province of Québec is providing a $20 million loan to support these projects.

As this collaboration was announced, Premier Philippe Couillard stated, “A business environment characterized by confidence, highly skilled workers and top-quality educational institutions, represents a winning combination for producing home-grown talent, developing our economy, opening up new markets and carving out our place on the international scene.”

I could not agree more. Siemens is a world leader in training skilled workers. This started in Germany, where we pioneered a “work integrated learning” model, in which the private sector partners with educational institutions to offer the most effective post-secondary education to prospective employees. This is not a traditional co-op program: there is full collaboration in development and execution of the educational programs, the program can include tuition reimbursement and salary, and students are under future contract with the company.

The end result is that students are well trained, and know they have guaranteed employment in their chosen field, even before they finish their schooling; while the employer is able to create the most effective training programs, and build their human resources strength.

Our collaboration with the province of Québec lays a foundation for important innovations in education and training. But we must not waste time congratulating one another on our foresight, because the need for change is absolutely urgent.
We cannot wait for the educational system to create the innovations necessary to meet the current and immediate future needs of the advanced manufacturing sector. Because that skills-gap crisis is already upon us. And it will not go away, because the inevitable change that is built into our ecosystem demands continual adaptability. We’re past the day when “big” beats “small” – today, it’s the adaptable beating the slow.

We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, marked by rapid and inexorable digitization, automation, innovation, globalization and collaboration. New skill sets are essential – our workers must live and breathe digitalization, they must be flexible, eschew “silo thinking”, and tackle challenges with creativity and vision.

Siemens has demonstrated that there is a solution to the skills gap. We’ve developed a Siemens Canada standard, supporting skills development programs for engineering and engineering technology students. With our partners, we’ve established an industry-led work-integrated learning framework. We’ve built the curriculum and courseware for our Siemens Canada training program. We’ve placed advanced manufacturing tools at post-secondary schools. We’ve generated interest across industry, education and government sectors.

At Siemens Canada, we are training students who demonstrate enhanced skills; they learn our business, our products, our systems, our engineering and technology, and our culture. And we’re hiring those students as important members of our corporate team. That’s good news for Siemens – we will produce about 30 well-trained, innovative corporate leaders annually. But when it comes to the entire advanced manufacturing sector in Québec – and across Canada – this is clearly a drop in the bucket. This has to become an industry-wide commitment, and a sector-wide collaboration. Industry and schools must fine-tune training curricula, and offer meaningful work experience; while governments must provide financial support.

We in advanced manufacturing cannot expect the educational or government sectors to rush to us with solutions. It’s up to us to engage with these essential partners. We need to be talking to the colleges and universities in our communities, insisting that we work together, jointly investing time and money to create the kind of work integrated learning that will meet our needs. We have the opportunity to create the future – but we need, first, to train the creators – and we need to do it, now.

Stephane Chayer, Vice President, Building Technologies
Siemens Canada

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