Our local learning industry

Our local learning industry has an umbrella organisation, LearnNB, that represents and markets the companies and institutions in the Province. The constant question over the past two years of its existence has been how can we grow the sector? Different perspectives offer various solutions. I tend to focus on the individual knowledge worker, not the companies.

The life expectancy of a knowledge worker is more than ten times that of your average knowledge-based company. The individual is the constant element, while companies come and go. We should establish incentives for individuals to create wealth instead of using the private corporation as the primary wealth creation vehicle.

How can we focus on enhancing creativity and critical thinking, essential for innovative organisations? First, we need to measure what matters. For instance, we currently measure the number of jobs created as a sign of economic prosperity. However, the number of jobs is not an indicator of a sustainable industry. If everyone is working for a few companies and these companies, headquartered elsewhere, decide to pull up stakes then all we have left are out-of-work employees. We need self-organising individuals who are able to create a company, a cooperative, or work by themselves.

Alec Bruce writes on Atlantic Canada First that foreign direct investment (FDI) has generally been positive for the region. Where it falls apart is when local entrepreneurs fail to capitalise on the financial investment and spin-off new, small businesses.

The issue is simply that the real, long-term value of robust FDI in this part of the world lies in the willingness and ability of Atlantic entrepreneurs to leverage international capital, expertise and innovation to build – or rebuild – homegrown economic capacity.

Ireland understands this, and so does Iceland. In recent years, both nations have embarked on aggressive and supremely effective campaigns to attract FDI – not to transform their economies into handmaidens for bottom-line-driven multinationals, but to equip their own entrepreneurs with the knowledge and market savvy to help them successfully venture abroad, themselves.

Yesterday I was speaking with Stephan List and he remarked that one of the major changes in German economic policy is to focus on medium-sized companies because the government realises that these companies are community-minded and the real engines of sustainable growth. In the German experience the large multinationals have not provided these same benefits.

We need a ground up approach. Support individuals, support entrepreneurs and free-agents and then support small company growth. Attracting employers who only provide “jobs” just continues a culture of dependence.

After the reduction of the e-learning industry here in 2001 we are now seeing some growth. I believe that the sustainability of the regional industry will depend on the knowledge workers and entrepreneurs who remain here to weather the next economic downturn. This could be difficult without a larger and more diverse group of small and nimble companies, developed during the good years.

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