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Global head, sustainability and corporate citizenship, Toronto-Dominion Bank

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Globalization 4.0, the Age of Automation and the Future of Work. What do all these terms have in common? They are shortcut handles to try to describe the very real and complex issue of the rapidly changing nature of work – a change that is having an impact on our economy, our politics and our social fabric.

But for many, the impact is personal and more simply put: “Will I have a decent job?”.

With change and disruption around us, there are pessimists who argue the sky is falling. On the other hand, the pragmatists among us believe we can take steps to find ways for people to thrive in tomorrow’s workplace and beyond. But we don’t have much time. The fact is, the jobs we needed 10 years ago for the economy to thrive are not the jobs we will need in 10 years. And while there is much emphasis placed on youth opportunity, there is a significant and growing skills gap among mid-career professionals who may be less adaptable to the new economy and holding substantial financial responsibilities for dependents. This challenge cannot be solved by one person, one company, one organization or one government.

Reskilling and upskilling for the future will require collaboration between private, public and non-profit organizations. We need new and creative ways to grow existing retraining programs and build new ones to support an evolving work force and changing work demands.

For example, the federal government’s Sectoral Initiatives Program (SIP) is a co-operative approach that employs a new way of thinking. Through partnerships with organizations in key industries, SIP helps identify, forecast and address human resources and skills issues throughout important segments of the Canadian economy. Armed with this data, both private and public sectors are developing and enhancing programs for national occupational standards, skills certification and accreditation systems, industry-relevant continuing education courses and learning opportunities for students.

Companies also have a role to play to help their employees, their customers and their communities adapt. In my capacity at TD, I’m focused on helping our business make a positive impact on the community. To help combat the growing skills gap, we put out a challenge to the not-for-profit sector to see if we could find and scale innovative solutions to help people. In its inaugural year, the TD Ready Challenge, offering 10 grants of $1-million, garnered hundreds of ideas to help increase income stability and improve the skills people need to fully participate in the economy of the future.

The innovative solutions range from providing microloans to skilled immigrants who need certification in Canada to breaking down barriers for women to land higher-wage jobs in the information-technology sector. What was common in all the proposals was the notion that individuals can succeed in the new economy and that there are many supports available. All of the judges left the pitch session with a sense of optimism, feeling that the collaboration between private and public sectors can offer real support to help those who are struggling now, but also prepare people for potential shifts in their employment so that they feel more in control of their future and more confident about their ability to succeed.

Governments and educators should take every opportunity to find new ways to support experiential learning and co-operative work programs, invest in industry-relevant technology, collect and share information about labour market outcomes and shape new programs based on this knowledge.

At the same time, large employers have the scale to leverage philanthropy and human capital resources, while using their business expertise to support growth for employees and Canadians over all.

Investing more in training and development for current and prospective employees will be critical. A recent World Economic Forum report found “only about 30 per cent of employees in today’s job roles with the highest probability of technical disruptions have received any kind of professional training over the past 12 months.”

We're in the midst of a period of unprecedented change, which holds both challenges and opportunities. If we come together and take advantage of opportunities, collaborate across sectors and create the needed learning infrastructure, we can help ensure an inclusive tomorrow for everyone.

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