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Last year, Eva Sage-Gavin, a managing director responsible for global talent at Accenture, and Kelly Monahan, an organizational behaviourist, addressed a room of C-suite executives who wanted a peek into the future. Specifically, they wanted to know what companies needed to do to prepare for work in the coming years.

The pair bluntly told their audience to automate and digitize their operations. Some months after that meeting, they followed up their message by publishing a research project that underscored the imperative need for companies to become digitally fluent.

That message is something those in education, training or at the beginning of their careers should pay close attention to. Workers need to arm themselves with technical skills if they want economic stability and prosperity, and in particular, if they want to obtain what are called “opportunity jobs.”

Opportunity jobs are the opposite of gig work. Opportunity jobs offer aspirants a chance to make a steady and high- income livelihood and insulate themselves against future shocks in the labour market.

“Technical skills, especially those that include operational analyses, sciences, programming and systems evaluation – provide clear pathways to these opportunity jobs,” wrote Ms. Sage-Gavin and Dr. Monahan. “Technical skills were always important, but the sense of urgency of obtaining them has never been more critical.”

Canada, a laggard globally

As the pandemic recedes and Canada enters a recovery phase, it will have to play catch-up in terms of skills performance.

In the 2021 Global Skills Index report from online course platform Coursera, Canada was ranked 55th globally in terms of competency for business, technology, and data science skills. For its study, the company said it analyzed performance data of more than 77 million learners enrolled on their platform, looking at factors such as the number of students enrolled in each course, grades, and even how long learners spent on assignments.

In worldwide standings, Canada trails far behind leaders Switzerland, Luxembourg and Norway in digital-economy skills such as operating systems, cloud computing, and mathematics. Ironically, despite the stability of its banking system, Canada lagged in finance skills. It also underperformed in several different comparisons of financial-sector competitiveness.

Once a top-10 country in the world in mathematics education, Canada has seen its ranking and math scores drop over the past 15 years, according to Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Skills for the future

The Coursera report lays out the skillsets needed for entry-level and mid-level jobs in the post-pandemic labour markets, organized across three main groupings. The company also notes (though perhaps self-interestedly) that many employees may be overlooking the opportunity to obtain these skills online. According to the report, 75 per cent of active learners spend less than three hours per week on the coursework to advance their careers.

These were the top trending skills in North America:

  • Business: Strategy and operations, Microsoft excel, project management, data analysis, accounting, writing, finance, marketing, Tableau software, digital marketing
  • Technology: Theoretical computer science, programming principles, design and product, C programming, mathematics, user experience, Javascript, computational thinking, data structures, graphic design
  • Data Science: Python programming, statistical machine learning, probability and statistics, machine learning, data management, machine learning algorithms, applied machine learning, SQL, data visualization software, econometrics

The future of work will demand that people develop their skills and learn new ones throughout their careers. According to job portal Indeed, health care, trade, hospitality, and information technology (IT) are industries with the most in-demand careers in Canada.

Some of the job opportunities that are presently emerging in Canada are construction estimator, software engineer, web developer, financial adviser, home health aide, industrial electrician, medical technologist, nursing assistant, occupational therapist, pharmacist, physical therapy aide, statistician, truck driver and pipefitter.

What I’m reading around the web

  • Following damning revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook (and Instagram), announced the company would introduce a series of safety features such as urging users who are on the platform for long periods of time to “take a break.’” The social media said it will also develop ways to divert users from harmful content and place limits on the amount of political content it offers, according to this article from CNBC.
  • Why is Squid Game so darn popular? If you have asked yourself this question, then this article in Psychology Today offers a plausible explanation. Squid Game is a South Korean TV show about a secret game played by some 400 people in debt vying for $38-million in prize money. It is set to smash records as one of the most watched shows on Netflix.
  • Parth Khanna’s health-sector platform Acto, used by pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies to communicate with employees, patients and health-care providers, is riding the crest of success. The company’s revenues saw a 158-per-cent increase in 2019. Last year, Acto attracted $11.5-million in Series A funding, according to Andrea Yu in Canadian Business.

More opinion from Globe Careers

Companies giving back to their communities isn’t just altruism – it’s smart business sense Tokenism has no place in building relationships with communities, consumers or employees, writes COBS Bread CEO Aaron Gillespie in the Globe’s Leadership Lab.

More from the section

Can this marketing manager’s résumé help him land an executive role in another industry? A reader asks about how to get himself out of a job rut.

A promised raise was revoked. What are my options? In this week’s NinetoFive advice column, a reader asks about whether a company is allowed to announce changes to pay structure, and then retract the changes.


Leadership Lab is a series where executives, experts and writers share their views and advice about the world of work. You can find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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