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Working with Saskatchewan Polytechnic helped Innovative Stonecraft come up with an innovative building material.SUPPLIED

When Innovative Stonecraft, a Canadian manufacturer of high-quality stone veneer products based in Saskatoon, needed an applied research solution, the company knew whom to call. A trusted partnership with Saskatchewan Polytechnic had already led to successful research and development endeavours – and was sure to deliver impact again.

With facilities that include thousands of square feet of maker space, state-of-the-art equipment and high-calibre technical expertise, Saskatchewan Polytechnic is well equipped for helping industry partners solve real-world problems.

For Innovative Stonecraft, the recent collaboration resulted in “building material that is eco-friendly, lightweight and crack resistant. It allows the company to use locally sourced, non-recyclable plastics and crop residues in a concrete mix for stone veneer,” says Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO of Saskatchewan Polytechnic. “Small and medium-sized enterprises often lack the capacity, equipment and networks to undertake the kind of research and development that drives innovation. Partnering with us can help them achieve results like Innovative Stonecraft, which developed a prototype that will be market-ready in 2021.”

While companies gain innovative solutions, colleges and polytechnics also benefit from “having the pulse of industry,” says Dr. Rosia. “We work closely with professional experts through Program Advisory Committees. They inform us about industry trends and point out the skills and competencies our students need. Aligning our programming with labour market demands gives us the confidence that there are jobs waiting for our graduates.”

The results are impressive: 94 per cent of Saskatchewan Polytechnic students find employment upon graduation; and one in 24 jobs in the province is linked to the polytechnic. “Many of our alumni are on the front line performing essential duties, for example, in health-care facilities, on construction sites and in manufacturing,” says Dr. Rosia. “They will also be instrumental in putting stimulus money to work.”

Lessons learned from the pandemic response will allow colleges and polytechnics to play a key role in economic recovery, he believes. “I’m extremely proud of the agility and responsiveness demonstrated by our employees and students at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Our successful transition to remote learning and the development of a suite of online support services can allow us to continue this kind of student engagement even after physical distancing rules are relaxed.”

Another outcome is a heightened emphasis on “upskilling and reskilling,” says Dr. Rosia. “We are building out an array of courses and credentials, including microcredentials, within the new School of Continuing Education.”

Education needs to be transformed from a “one-and-done” approach into a lifelong pursuit – and the new courses and credentials can help both employers and job seekers to devise flexible and cost-effective strategies for advancing professional skills.

“While the pandemic has reminded business leaders of how quickly jobs and work can change, this trend started well before COVID-19, and we see no signs that it will abate,” says Dr. Rosia. “A 2020 report by the World Economic Forum about the future of jobs predicts that 50 per cent of all employees will need reskilling within the next five years. This means that colleges and polytechnics have to be agile and responsive to the needs of their communities and businesses.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic clearly demonstrates these qualities. It currently contributes $2.2-billion (approximately 3.1 per cent) to the provincial economy and is well positioned to help the Province of Saskatchewan meet the goal of tripling the growth of its already booming tech sector, says Dr. Rosia. “This will bring well-paying jobs and rewarding careers for graduates with the right skills.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.