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Business people cross the street in front of the 4th Street C-Train Station in Calgary on April 14, 2023.Jude Brocke/The Globe and Mail

Jeffrey Doucet is chief executive of Thrive Career Wellness.

Canada’s economy is facing a significant challenge from an underinvestment in employees, which is contributing to stagnating economic growth, falling productivity and a lack of innovation. This underinvestment not only hurts individual career growth, but also severely affects our competitiveness. In a rapidly changing global economy where skills are the currency of success, Canada cannot afford to fall behind from a lack of investment in employee-training initiatives.

While our neighbours in the United States spend on average $954 per employee per year on training, Canadian companies spend just $240. That’s also less than the amount invested in training by most of our peer countries. While not the only factor, this does correlate to Canada’s deepening decline in its relative standard of living, which has markedly fallen in recent years.

Certainly, the pandemic stalled Canada’s economy, as it did for countries around the world. But our low productivity growth long predates this. Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter notes that our productivity has lagged that of the U.S. for decades, and that gap has increased to the point where our productivity is now actually declining.

The reasons behind this decline are multiple but are centred on a lack of business investment. The signs continue to be troubling, with Statistics Canada recently reporting that real business investment in this country declined for the sixth time over the past seven quarters.

Business is about people, but too often we underinvest in the very people who are key to productivity and helping us achieve the remarkable potential that this country offers.

As the world of work undergoes a transformation, linear career paths are becoming less common. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report notes that close to one in four jobs are expected to change in just the next five years. Further, almost half of workers’ core skills needed to do their jobs will undergo significant change by 2027.

Clearly the importance of continuous learning and upskilling cannot be overstated in today’s dynamic job market. Technological advancements, automation and globalization are reshaping industries at an unprecedented pace, rendering certain skills obsolete while creating demand for new ones. Without proper investment in modern, relevant employee training, Canadian workers risk falling behind, limiting career advancement and hampering business growth, which ultimately harms our shared economic prosperity.

When employees lack the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their roles effectively, their output suffers, leading to inefficiencies and reduced competitiveness for Canadian businesses. This translates to slower economic growth and undermines this country’s ability to innovate and adapt to emerging trends.

Income inequality in Canada has continued to increase over the past two decades, further harming our economy and national well-being. Can job training play a role in responding to this challenge? According to the Brookings Institute, sector-based programs that train people for high-demand jobs are showing success – today we are seeing this in the fast-growing demand to prepare people for AI-driven careers.

Business leaders have a responsibility to address this pressing need by prioritizing employee development as a strategic imperative. By fostering a culture of learning within their organizations and providing resources for training and development, companies enhance employee morale and productivity. And when needs change and people depart, they are better positioned for their next role.

Too often training investment is limited to the on-boarding process pertaining to the specific role for which the employee has been hired. This misses the opportunity to nurture talent over the life cycle of an employee’s time with an organization. Companies that offer continuous training and development opportunities enhance employee retention and long-term career growth, while also reducing turnover costs. I always like to say we do not hire someone for the role that they are doing on day one, we hire them because of where we can see them going in three to five years and it is our responsibility to ensure they get there.

Implementing employee development programs at scale can be challenging. But it is vital in meeting the skills gap brought on by geopolitical, and economic shifts, and in particular technological change. Such programs, built internally and with external support, set up organizations for innovation and growth – key drivers for Canada’s economic competitiveness.

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