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leadership lab

Andrew Dunckelman leads the Work Initiative. Joe Greenwood is lead executive for data at MaRS Discovery District.

As the end of the academic year approaches, thousands of graduates are about to enter a strong job market. According to the Royal Bank of Canada, Canada’s economy is on target to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years. But do our graduates have the skills they need to land these jobs?

On paper, they are better prepared for work than their parents, with more holding advanced degrees. But the kinds of jobs available, and the very nature of work, have evolved in a way our educational systems haven’t addressed, particularly as it relates to technology.

Technology will improve, change or even replace many of the tasks people are currently performing all over the world.

Last week, for example, a pair of robots in Singapore made headlines by assembling an IKEA chair in 20 minutes. Russia is exploring postal drones as a means for delivering goods. And according to McKinsey Global Institute, they’ve identified another 400 tasks that could be handled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the near future, a list that includes preventive machine maintenance, sales analysis and transportation planning.

As technology changes the kinds of tasks we’ll do at work, it can cause difficult transitions. But we’ve been through these transitions before and have generally been able to leverage technological advances to transform jobs for the better. This time is no different, with one exception: We will use the same technology that brought the change to help us navigate it.

Deploying AI to solve problems created by automation seems counterintuitive. But it’s the kind of problem AI was built for. Its first challenge is identifying in-demand skills. For example, Burning Glass Technologies, a provider of job-market data, has identified an uptick in postings for “hybrid” jobs, such as marketing analysts, that require digital skills – graphic design, programming or data analysis – as well as sector expertise. The company points out that few university courses teach both skill sets as a package, leaving the pathway into these roles unclear for many young people. And while no one can know exactly how work will change in the future, we believe that the pace of change – and the imperative to keep up – will increase.

But where AI is truly game changing is in its ability to process massive amounts of data and complex sets of economic variables at a scale we’ve never before been able to do. The challenge is knowing what to do with the results. Toronto is well placed to provide an answer. The city has one of the world’s strongest AI and startup communities. For this reason, is helping MaRS, a Toronto-based innovation hub, develop the Employment Pathway Platform (EPP), an AI-powered tool that will put the power of big data and machine learning to work for job seekers. The platform will use algorithms to analyze users’ skills and experiences, and couple them with expected shifts in technology adoption and predicted growth sectors.

With EPP, we will be able to identify potentially suitable jobs, connecting the dots between the skills job seekers have and those they will need, and identifying pathways between the two. We plan to support 10,000 Canadian workers making career transitions in the next two years, focusing on young people, immigrants, Indigenous people and other groups who are particularly vulnerable during times of economic transition. If the approach proves successful, we can adapt the program to help many more.

Our platform is an attempt to marshal the data and analytical power of AI to help workers make sense of the changing world of work – and find their place in it.

And those graduating students? They will enter the work force with a powerful tool no generation before has had, a tool which will help future-proof their careers.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.