In today’s digital climate – where AI, quantum computing and cleantech are revolutionizing business operations – technology has become more than just a tool. It’s the strategy behind every business decision.
Recognizing this shift, the University of Waterloo created WatSPEED, a professional education and executive training organization designed to help businesses bridge this technology-strategy gap.
WatSPEED is more than a learning solutions provider. The organization is a convenor of critical discussions between industry, government and academia to solve some of today’s most pressing workforce challenges. A perfect example of this is the upcoming Tech Horizons Executive Forum event in November, which we’ll share more about in Part 2 of this series.
To find out more about WatSPEED’s purpose and programs, we recently sat down with the organization’s Corporate Development Lead, Jean-Paul Mouton. Jean-Paul works with businesses to develop custom training programs, ensuring that learning outcomes align with their business strategies and address their unique needs.
Here’s what he told us:
Q: WatSPEED offers a variety of programs, from professional education to executive programs and custom training. Can you elaborate on these streams?
MOUTON: WatSPEED programming is designed with the busy working professional in mind. That is reflected in the content of our programs, as well as their delivery modalities. Our programs include self-paced online learning, virtual instructor-led learning and in-person learning programs.
Programs range from the introductory level, which are designed for professionals beginning to explore new career opportunities, all the way up to executive sprints, which are focused on senior leaders looking to make decisions involving new technology or strategy.
We also offer custom learning and development solutions for corporate clients, uniquely designed to support partners’ talent development and retention initiatives within the context of the transformation journey.
Q: Who should consider enrolling for these programs? Are there specific roles or types of companies that would benefit most?
MOUTON: WatSPEED programming is focused on helping organizations to thrive amid technological disruption. Any company or individual that’s looking to capitalize on the adoption of new technologies has something to gain from our programming.
Consider the rise of generative AI and its enormous potential in sectors like finance, insurance, healthcare and retail. Despite only being released in November of 2022, ChatGPT has already transformed our ideas around productivity. WatSPEED has responded quickly to create two exciting new programs to equip and empower our learners to leverage the power of large language models.
At the executive level we offer ChatGPT and the Large Language Model Revolution for leaders who need to understand what’s required to implement LLM applications in their organizations. At the practitioner level, our Foundations of Large Language Models: Tools, Techniques, and Applications program equips those building natural language processing models and optimizing their performance with the required skills and competencies to do so effectively.
Along the entire continuum, from understanding the potential and risks of a new technology, all the way through to effective implementation, WatSPEED offers programming that supports and accelerates digital transformation.
In industries disrupted by technology, like health information management, where there has been a shift towards higher-skilled roles due to AI adoption, WatSPEED collaborates with top organizations like Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA), for example, to offer professionals in the health sector access to our programs, equipping them with new competencies for better career opportunities.
Q: What challenges are these people/companies facing when they come to WatSPEED? What do they want to learn more about?
MOUTON: Technological disruption is the norm in almost every sector in the economy. New technologies are being adopted at accelerating rates. As a result, the tasks associated with many roles are also changing rapidly.
As roles change, workers are required to both maintain the intrinsic domain knowledge that has always formed part of their work, but also learn new technical skills which enable them to work effectively alongside new technologies. This is the defining characteristic of WatSPEED clients – they are lifelong learners who understand that their jobs are fundamentally changing and that they’ll have to add new skills to their resumes to remain competitive.
Similarly, our corporate clients recognize that to fully realize the promise of new technologies, they need to upskill their staff. They understand that seeking greater efficiency and productivity by leveraging technological advances also requires significant investment in the development of human capital.
Q: What workforce challenges are prompting a deeper focus and/or investment on reskilling and upskilling programs?
MOUTON: The momentum of digital transformation across Canada has stalled, and the reason for that is not that our companies lack access to technologies, nor that we don’t have the infrastructure to support them. Instead, the primary reason is the lack of digitally-skilled talent.
" When the pandemic hit, many businesses accelerated their digital strategies and we immediately saw just how in demand skilled talent was. It was in this climate that WatSPEED was born. "
Corporate Development Lead at WatSPEED
Prior to the pandemic, the University of Waterloo convened a group of leading Canadian CEOs to ask how we, as an academic institution, could best support them through their most critical challenges. The group agreed that while we are doing great work in developing early talent, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the demand for digitally skilled talent able to work alongside new technologies at the mid-career level.
We established WatSPEED to help Canadian companies empower their existing workforces through extensive upskilling and retraining, to attract and train “career transitioners” and to foster lifelong learning cultures within their organizations.
The demand for digitally-skilled talent continues to grow, driven by the broad adoption of exciting new technologies like generative AI. Indeed, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) expects the demand for digitally-skilled talent in Canada to reach more than 305,000 this year, up from 211,000 in 2019.
Q: How will a continuously upskilled workforce result in more foreign direct investment (FDI) into Canada and expand our capacity to innovate and compete?
MOUTON: Through three key mechanisms: Creating a desirable labour force, fostering innovation and enhancing competitiveness.
Continuous upskilling of the workforce results in greater FDI by creating a highly-skilled labour pool. FDI flows into countries where the workforce is well positioned to support the operations, research and development initiatives of corporations.
We’ve seen this mechanism in practice right here in our own backyard, where the University of Waterloo, along with the other universities and colleges within the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, supports an ecosystem of over 15,000 tech companies and more than 50,000 manufacturing workers.
At the same time, upskilling also fosters a culture of innovation. A highly-skilled workforce that is readily able to adopt new technologies, tools and methods has more ability to innovate. FDI tends to flow to locations that represent significant opportunities for innovation, and in turn, higher return on investment.
Harnessing tech in today’s workplace
In a tech environment that seems to change daily, professional development programming is one of the best ways that executives and professionals can stay ahead of the curve. With its cutting-edge executive education programs and events, WatSPEED is tackling workforce trends and leading the technical discourse that Waterloo is known for.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Jean-Paul where we’ll discuss WatSPEED’s upcoming Tech Horizons Executive Forum and how it aims to help senior executives get ahead of the latest tech trends impacting their business.
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