Canada’s transition into the future of work won’t be easy. Some studies suggest that as much as 45 per cent of total employment is at risk of automation in Canada. But through pro-active policy, a reallocation of resources and a renewed vision for the work force, we can drastically improve our odds of securing an optimistic outcome. Here are three areas Canada should address now to lay the foundation for a successful transition into the future of work:
Bridge the skills gap and transition into a learning economy
Canada needs to invest in building accessible programs for Canadians to upgrade their skills throughout their entire working lives. There is a gap between the skills needed for the jobs of the future and the skills many Canadian employees have. In fact, a recent study by PWC suggested that 88 per cent of Canadian CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills in their industries in the future. According to the World Economic Forum, the future of work will require a “re-skilling revolution.” Re-skilling won’t be a one-time investment. As technology continues to advance, we will likely have to change occupations several times throughout our working lives, requiring us to learn new skills or upgrade our existing ones each time. As stated in a recent report by McKinsey & Company, education will become a lifelong endeavour.
As the Harvard Business Review recently noted, Singapore’s Skills Future Credit and Skills Development Levy provides an excellent example of government-facilitated re-skilling. The government provides Singaporeans of 25 years of age and older with the opportunity to receive the equivalent of $480 per year in their personal learning accounts for re-skilling. In addition, the government offers mid-career support and provides $480 to every Singaporean citizen aged 40 to 60 to access career transition programs. The goal is to “encourage individuals to take timely action to learn, re-skill and seize new career opportunities.”
Redesign social protection
Governments need to design economic social safety nets that reflect the current realities of the economy. The economy is quickly changing as organizations try to restructure their operations to be more flexible in response to changing technologies. Some organizations are likely to source more non-traditional forms of work, such as gig work – short-term, temporary, or independent contracts for one or a variety of employers – for both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. These forms of employment, however, often preclude access to social safety nets that come with standard forms of employment, such as access to sufficient employment insurance (EI) and maternity leave. These types of jobs also create more income volatility as workers move from contract to contract.
To ensure Canadians are financially protected, we need to redesign our social safety nets, such as EI, to match the changing needs of the work force. The current COVID-19 pandemic exposed these vulnerabilities. As the economy shut down, gig workers and self-employed individuals were unable to get financial support because they did not meet the EI eligibility requirements.
The Danish government’s recently-established Disruption Council is an example of a successful social safety net redesign. Through this council, new regulation has been passed that provides all Danes, regardless of their form of employment, a harmonized safety net and income security in the event that they lose their job or income. Moreover, under this new regulation, all taxable income can be used to earn unemployment benefits. The World Economic Forum recently praised the importance of these initiatives for “creating an innovative ecosystem” and “creating a sound labour market and proper social safety net.”
Reform primary, secondary, and post-secondary education
School curricula need to prepare students to thrive in the economies they will be entering. Our current education curricula and teaching formats are largely preparing youth for jobs of the past. Curriculums need to be redesigned to teach students ‘how to learn’ and how to solve problems instead of how to memorize facts and figures, something that artificial intelligence will increasingly do. Moreover, given that students in school today will likely hold approximately 17 jobs (65 per cent of which haven’t been invented yet), across five different industries, the curriculum needs to prioritize student agility and adaptability. Finally, as the World Economic Forum recommends, schools must teach the entirety of computer science disciplines as part of the core curriculum, including computational thinking and cybersecurity, not just coding. In order for Canada to secure a strong foothold in the future of work, we need to teach our students not just how to use technology, but how to create it.
Although the pace of technological innovation may be out of our control, how we choose to respond is not. Through optimal policy response, Canadians can walk into the future of protected, skilled, and positioned for success.
Sinead Bovell is a futurist and founder of WAYE (Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs), an organization aiming to educate young entrepreneurs on the intersection of business, technology, and the future. She is the Leadership Lab columnist for August 2020.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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