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The dramatic rise of digital commerce, the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and the country’s aging population are having a profound impact on the skills Canadian employers value today, and those they will prize in the years ahead.

According to Statistics Canada there were seven million Canadians aged 65 and older in 2021, representing almost a fifth of the population, and economists warn the large share of retirees is leaving significant talent gaps in the labour market.

The agency also found that retail ecommerce sales increased by 70 per cent between February, 2020, and July of 2022, demonstrating a sudden shift in how we shop for just about everything.

Both trends are shaping skills needs today, but experts suggest no force will disrupt the Canadian work force more in the years ahead than the proliferation of AI.

“The most important thing for everyone to realize right now is that your job is changing on you even if you’re not changing jobs,” says Aneesh Raman, vice president of LinkedIn’s Opportunity Project, which works with non-profit partners to educate employers and business leaders about skills-first talent approaches.

According to LinkedIn data, 25 per cent of the skills required for a given role have changed in the past five years. “AI is about to accelerate that change over the next year, let alone five years,” adds Mr. Raman. “Thinking about the skills you have and the skills you need, not just as you start your career but across your career, is the best way to manage the big changes that are hitting the economy.”

Here are the top five most sought-after skills in the Canadian labour market for today and the years ahead.

1. Human skills

As technology takes over jobs and tasks that can be easily automated, humans are increasingly valued for skills that can’t be outsourced to a machine. That is why most experts put human skills or “soft skills” at the top of the list.

“With AI starting to fundamentally change all work – especially technical work – the soft skills are becoming the new hard skills,” says Mr. Raman. “When we looked at paid job postings as well as standout skills of professionals who received a recruiter InMail or were hired in the past six months, we found the most in-demand skills are things like communication, leadership and management.”

2. Digital literacy

In a more automated world of work, humans also need to be prepared to utilize those tools effectively. That is why Mr. Raman believes virtually everyone, regardless of role or industry, will benefit from increasing their digital literacy.

“Every company right now is either a tech company or a tech-enabled company, even if they don’t realize it. That’s why digital skills continue to grow in relevance across all types of jobs,” he says. “Whether it’s knowing how to use a specific software or demonstrating an ability to quickly learn and adopt the latest tools like ChatGPT to be more productive in your role, employers want to see that you’re eager to learn and keep your digital skills sharp.”

3. Leadership and management skills

As the Boomer generation transitions into retirement, they leave behind some significant gaps in the leadership ranks. That’s a big problem for employers hoping to hire managers with some degree of prior experience.

“These skills are going to be in demand, because younger individuals don’t have significant management experience,” explains Parisa Mahboubi, a senior analyst and leader of the C.D. Howe Institute’s Human Capital Policy Program. “Those are the kind of skills that you learn on the job, so when a large number of people leave the labour market and retire, my anticipation is that we are going to see a gap here, and we need to prepare younger individuals to take these roles.”

4. Skill sets that touch the supply chain

The pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of ecommerce, and the labour market hasn’t quite caught up to the sudden change. Today there are significant gaps in those roles that enable users to tap their phone today and receive a product on their doorstep tomorrow.

“We need drivers, warehouse workers, customer service representatives, production supervisors – all of those roles that are linked to the supply chain,” says Marie-Pier Bedard, an executive vice president for Randstad Canada.

5. Adaptability

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “change is the only constant in life,” and the ancient quote has never been more appropriate, given the technical, economic, and lifestyle disruptions of late. That is why Ms. Bedard argues the most valuable skill today is an ability to manage those changes effectively.

She explains that downward economic forces – like high inflation, rising interest rates, bank failures and recession fears – typically lead to widespread layoffs. Instead, the resilience of the job market through the recent volatility demonstrates the significant need for workers across most industries.

Ms. Bedard says this resiliency demonstrates how there will always be opportunities for Canadians – even if their industry or role doesn’t survive the next disruption – as long as they’re able to adapt.

“There’s such a big scarcity, and that means that as a worker you need to be ready and open to learning new skills,” she says. “As long as you are, there will be a place for you.”

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