A recent Canadian Chamber of Commerce presentation featured David Foote, Canadian author of “Boom, Bust & Echo”, presenting the role demographics plays in understanding the past and predicting the future. Locally Sean Lyons from the University of Guelph’s business school has presented business people concerns of inter-generational differences and their impacts on workplace dynamics and managing people. A different economy has begun, led in part by changing demographics and differences within demographics. What does this mean for Guelph?
For the past two years following the recession we have seen declines in Guelph’s labour force. David Foote shows this has been expected, when you take into account the more top heavy Canadian demographic evolving. Few countries in the world follow the traditional pyramid shaped demographics, with a broad base of young people tapering to less people in the over 65 age group. This global phenomenon gives us a 20 year horizon on our population, its impact on education planning, city planning, health care, and business. The waves of 18 year old students entering post-secondary education will not be the same in the future. Housing needs will shift and health care will continue to take more of the provincial budget.
The impact of the shifting demographic is having an effect on business, with four generations now working together as people work later in life. The impact of knowledge leaving businesses as people retire is a growing concern, and we are hearing more and more about “succession planning”. Knowledge transfer in the global economy becomes very local when people with 40 years of experience decide to call it a day.
Where and how we get knowledge is also changing. Information has never been so available to so many people, and its volume is both accelerating and getting louder. Getting the right information from the clutter and noise is becoming another challenge. Through social media we are able to receive and give information by following people from around the world. Open education programs have been pioneered at the University of Guelph and are expanding at Conestoga College. Guelph now even has an on line high school. Getting information is one thing, building relationships is entirely different.
The Guelph Chamber of Commerce puts “social” into social media through the relationships we build in the community. Building social knowledge provides some of the wisdom that information alone cannot provide. Closing the knowledge gap is as much about knowing the people around you as learning the information you need to be successful. Guelph has always been strong on working together, or collaborating. Some of this comes from our size, and some from our social fabric. The pressure will be on us to continue our personal ties going forward as communications become more and more digital. A friend once said to me people are analogue, and we are creating a digital world. Very little around us conforms to the “1 or 0” world of digital design. Real creativity happens in the space between extremes.
The knowledge economy has begun on many levels, by connecting us to people around the world and giving us access to information. What information is right for the situation, and how to use it requires the social intelligence many generations before us developed by knowing the people on the other side of the communications. In the end the success of the knowledge economy hinges on how well our social and cultural connections are made. People will still deal with the people they know and trust, both here in Guelph or around the world.