Northern Ontario has always been a resource-based economy - meaning it hasn't had the time and energy to develop other industries like the "knowledge" economy. The knowledge-based economy is all about using knowledge, education, creativity, and technology to create goods and services or solve problems; while our old system built homes and mined for minerals. Today, however, a knowledge-based economy is all about people - you must have people with the right knowledge, creativity, and technology to keep up with modern society. The major industries in Northern Ontario are still based on resource-based economies - so we don't have the capacity to build a knowledge-based economy. We need a new way of thinking and new industries to support this new way of thinking.
Is this a new idea?
No, the knowledge-based economy has been around for a few years. The first use of the term "knowledge-based economy" is not clear but many agree it was probably during the 1980s. It has been used to describe an economic system based on intellectual capital (knowledge) and innovation.
The knowledge-based economy is not a new term but it may be new to many in Northern Ontario. It's most often thought of as a development in urbanized areas. The problem with this is that many of the workforce are employed in resource-based industries and do not have the skill set needed to be successful in knowledge-based industries. A new way of thinking is required on how to bring knowledge-based economy jobs to Northern Ontario.
What is the impact?
The positive impact that a knowledge-based economy would have on Northern Ontario provides that there are enough people with the right skills - and more importantly, interest in taking advantage of these job opportunities. With developing a knowledge-based economy there would be more jobs available in areas such as health care, education, financial services, and information technology to name a few. For example, with the growing demand for healthcare professionals across the province, there would be many job opportunities in Northern Ontario.
The negative impact that a knowledge-based economy would have on Northern Ontario is that we just don't have the qualified people to fill these positions. The majority of our workforce is employed in resource-based industries and does not have the skills to fill knowledge-based jobs. Change from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy takes time and effort and it won't happen overnight. There would also be a variety of job opportunities in this new economy, so employers have to have a firm grasp on what specific skills are needed for that type of position.
Where do we start?
The first step is to identify the problems and find out what you want to change. For example, you could look at what skills people currently need and work backward to determine where they can get those skills. You then use education and training programs in Northern Ontario to build up human capital that will fill the need for your business or organization.
The Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) has been training medical professionals in areas such as Northern Ontario. This brings together the right people to build a new knowledge-based economy; when you build education, you can help teach the skills required to build a knowledge-based economy.
How do we get there?
There are three major factors to consider when developing a knowledge-based economy: ideas, capital, and technology. These are intertwined and need each other in order for growth to take place. It is also about cultivating people so that they will be able to draw on their experiences to see what works and apply it in their everyday lives.
Ideas: what industries Northern Ontario needs to focus on, and where the jobs are, among other things?
Capital: money is a big part of it; there has to be a way to generate the money needed to start these businesses and get them running. Capital can come from many sources, including private investors and government grants.
Technology: ideas need capital and capital needs ideas; technology is an important part of this model so that you can commercialize your idea. Technology also allows people in Northern Ontario to have access to information about different products in different parts of the world. Without technology, it would be difficult for someone in Timmins to gain access to information from tech companies in Bengaluru (India).
What needs to be done?
The focus of this economy needs to be on the people who live in Northern Ontario. Without the people, there will not be a knowledge-based economy. The first step is for Northern Ontarians to have an interest in changing the current system that has been in place for hundreds of years and is currently not generating enough jobs. The government also has a role to play by creating or improving education systems so that the right people are trained with the right skills and can generate jobs in a knowledge-based economy. Government investments should also be made available to help develop new businesses and their ideas through various funding programs. The final thing that needs to happen is to have the motivation and initiative to create these jobs.
It depends on how quickly people decide that they want a different way of looking at things. It also depends on how much time it will take to educate people and build the human capital that is needed for a knowledge-based economy to grow. Overall, it could be up to many years for a complete turnaround, depending on how many people choose to make this change.
The idea of a knowledge-based economy is not new but the impact that it could have on developing Northern Ontario into a vibrant economy is. What needs to happen is to increase the human capital in Northern Ontario by developing the right education programs, building those programs, and creating jobs in the right sectors. There will be many opportunities available with resource extraction slowly coming to an end. Mining companies have already started taking steps to diversify their operations, with some establishing offices in different countries. This diversification process has already begun and there are long-term benefits for resource extraction companies to be involved in other sectors as well.
Northern Ontario does have some advantages when it comes to a knowledge-based economy if the right steps are taken. The North has access to a lot of space and is currently efficient at using resources. As we look for new ways for Northern Ontarians to make a living, there needs to be an overall look at how we want our future economy to look and how will we get there. There is always room for improvement; with the right steps being taken this could be one of many changes that Northern Ontario could see over the next few decades.