The economy of British Columbia has fundamentally changed. Are we ready for tomorrow?
Building a prosperous future for the province means putting people first as the fundamental engine of wealth, says Jill Tipping, President and CEO of BC Tech.
I have developed a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Everything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary and is just part of how the world works.
2. Everything invented between the ages of 15 and 35 is new, exciting, and revolutionary, and you can probably make a career out of it.
3. Anything invented after 35 years is against the natural order of things.
For Jill Tipping, this observation by the late science fiction author Adams highlights the urgent need to change the way we think about BC’s economy and its future.
Tipping is President and CEO of the BC Tech Association, which recently published A new economic story for British Columbia. The thesis of the report: Our economy is not what we tell ourselves it is. We still cling to the 20th century image of British Columbia as primarily an exporter of natural resources. But in fact, over the past three decades we have become a knowledge-based and service-based economy.
“How I would describe the call to action in this report is that it is no longer enough to describe that we are experiencing economic growth,” Tipping said. “We actually have to understand the why in order to be able to understand whether it’s sustainable or not. “
The report presents British Columbia as a small open economy at an inflection point in a rapidly changing world. While physical assets have been the engine of economic growth, resilience and competitiveness over the past century, the 21st century service economy relies on intangible assets such as data and intellectual property.
Just look at British Columbia, where services now account for 75 percent of gross domestic product, 80 percent of jobs and 50 percent of exports. “To plan for the future, we need to understand where we’re coming from, but we need to ground ourselves in where we are today,” says Tipping. “I think the conversation continues to be dominated by things that were true 30 years ago but aren’t today and certainly won’t be tomorrow.”
A control of world reality
Despite the growing wealth in North America, COVID has been a reality check for the world, Tipping notes. The same is true of the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, which could mark the end of the expansionist and globalist era, she said.
“I think today we’re sort of in a place of, oh, I don’t know, maybe there’s more tension in the world than I thought, and maybe that the climate crisis is more serious than I thought, and the transition out of oil and gas is sooner than I thought, ”says Tipping.
“Economic growth is a good thing, but economic growth that does not lead to increased shared prosperity will be a challenge,” she adds. “And economic growth based on industries that may or may not be grandfathered as quickly as before is not as good as economic growth that is driven by industries that are expanding globally and that will be sustainable sources of economic growth for the next 30 to 50 years.
On that note, Tipping sees an opportunity for British Columbia, whose tech industry continues to spill over into other sectors. “Adjacent industries become technological industries, and each industry becomes technological,” she says. “As a result, this will represent a growing share of jobs. “
The provincial government predicts that from 2019 to 2029, professional, scientific and technical services will experience 2.5% annual employment growth. But based on recent member surveys, BC Tech expects this category to grow 10 to 15 percent per year over the same period, generating 88,000 more jobs than the government forecast of 98. 800.
That’s good news, but when it comes to measuring the economic impact of the tech sector, we still use 20th century methods, the report says. For example, the current North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) does not separate technology and digital companies from professional, scientific and technical services. At the same time, there is little provincial and federal data on British Columbia’s service exports.
Talking with officials from both levels of government, Tipping found them interested in collecting better data. “It’s a challenge to find the time, the money and the teams to invest in the new one,” she says. “But I think there is a common understanding of the challenge and the need to adapt to this issue.”
Talent, talent and talent
To help shape the new economic narrative, BC Tech presents three steps. “First and foremost, you really have to embrace the data,” says Tipping. “Let’s understand today’s economy, because we don’t have enough information, that’s what drives 80% of our economy. “
With that in mind, Tipping would like the provincial government to use his organization’s report as it develops a new economic plan expected this fall. “We hope to have an influence in this framework on the types of questions that need to be asked and answered, and in particular with an emphasis on data capture.”
But her biggest ambition is to change the conversation, “so that hopefully three years from now 80 percent of jobs don’t get 5 percent of the conversation,” she says. “It’s something that’s a longer game, but even the way the report has been received so far and the conversations we’ve had so far, I’m pleasantly surprised by the interest that we get in government as well as in larger society. “
Step 2: Face Reality. “Let’s just understand that technological innovation is not a choice, it is no longer an option. It’s a fact, and it’s been a fact for 20 years, and it’s what drives prosperity and growth globally, ”she said. “Sometimes I think in BC it’s seen as the icing on the cake – or, if we have time for it, we will. It’s the cake, okay? It became the cake.
And step 3? “There are three priorities in this new economic narrative, and they are talent, talent and talent,” Tipping said. “We need to stop seeing people as a cost or an afterthought. They are the fundamental unit and the engine of wealth, prosperity, growth. And if we invest in people, whether it’s through education or infrastructure or their ideas or their entrepreneurship or their innovation in new ways to create value for old industries, whether in Colombia -British or elsewhere, this is the easiest money you can make.
After spending several years with energy multinational Schneider Electric as vice president of operations and CFO of its solar business, Tipping knows how to make money the hard way. “It’s a really tough business,” she says. “He is constantly focused on reducing costs. You will win in the energy business if you have the cheapest and most efficient supplier on a consistent basis. “
The drivers of the talent economy are completely different, notes Tipping. “You will win in the talent economy if you foster creativity and innovation, rapid business cycles, constant nourishment and enrichment, and the contribution of new ideas and products. “
Working in this new economy is also more enjoyable, she says. “It’s more fun making a living from something that is sustainably profitable and constantly interested in new ideas. “
Building the human economy
BC Tech’s report also highlights the changing nature of economic competitiveness, where taxes play a lesser role than intangibles, innovation and investment in people.
“I would say we’ve moved from a time of limited capital to a time of limited talent,” Tipping says. In other words, human labor and talent have become the scarce resource. “If you optimize this resource, you will be a winner and a success in the economy of today and tomorrow. “
Given its strong education and health care systems and the fact that in general it is a safe and welcoming society, British Columbia should be way ahead in this department, Tipping believes. “It’s a little far-fetched to say it, but if we can succeed in extracting what is in the minds of people like we were in extracting what is in the ground, that is the source of value for the future.”
For Tipping, it boils down to what she calls the infrastructure of the popular economy: education and recycling, but also affordable housing and good public transport.
“It’s important to have a stable and predictable environment,” she says. “But that might not be the most important thing anymore. The most important thing – and certainly what I believe in – is to be a great place for human talent to flourish. And if you’re optimized for it, then industry and post-secondary institutions and governments and everyone in the economy will end up with the wind at your back. ”