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Josh Donaldson, right, a third-year chemical engineering student and lead of the CHBeer project, who is working with a team to design a fully-automated brewing system that can be controlled with a smartphone and Shannon McInnes, a masters of engineering student in mechatronics design, are seen at the University of British Columbia in 2017.

DARRYL DYCK

Top officials from the world’s most advanced economies will gather in Montreal this week to debate the future of jobs. The good news: There is a future for jobs. The bad news: We’re not ready for it.

Ministers covering portfolios spanning economic development and labour from the Group of Seven (G7) countries will be in Montreal to lay out an agenda for their leaders when they meet in Charlevoix, Que., in June.

The need to develop skills for the future is one of the few issues that may unite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May as they confront an emerging world of work whose challenges transcend borders and ideologies. But they’re at risk of focusing too much on the current season of job creation – cue the politicians trumpeting record low unemployment – while missing the storm clouds of disruption on the horizon.

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The Royal Bank of Canada has just concluded a year-long research project to better understand Canada’s skills economy, using a set of algorithms we developed to examine more than two million job postings, across 300 occupations. We augmented the data with roundtables across the country, with students, educators and policy makers, and interviews with Canada’s largest employers.

The findings are both encouraging and alarming:

  • Over the next decade, close to half of Canadian jobs will undergo a massive change in the skills required.
  • Digital competencies will be essential to pretty much all new jobs. That doesn’t mean we need a nation of coders. We will need a nation of digital thinkers.
  • Most new jobs will place a greater emphasis on human skills, namely collaboration, communications, critical thinking and creativity, as we turn to people who can bridge technology and humanity.
  • Global thinking, and experience, will increasingly be in demand. Perhaps most critically, Canadians will need to move between occupations more than ever, as old jobs give way to new ones at an increasing pace.

While the challenges will affect all generations and occupations, we think the power of automation will be felt, over time, most acutely by Canadian youth, who will experience the greatest disruptions and be required to manage them into the 2030s and beyond, using a blend of technological and human skills that we’ve not yet mastered.

As our report, Humans Wanted, says, “for a young person entering the 2020s, there’s no better place to start than right here in Canada. Trouble is, we’re not adapting fast enough to a world of work that’s changing at warp speed.”

Here’s what we need if we’re to keep pace:

  1.  Bring labour market information into the 21st century. Canada’s current approach has more in common with the Yellow Pages than Instagram, and young people are voting with their thumbs. The federal government can change that by bringing together provinces and employers to create a model for the 2020s that the rest of the G7 will want to copy (or better yet, license).
  2. Change the way we hire, train and retrain. Canadian employers – public and private, big and small – need to look at human capital the way we treat other assets on our balance sheets. That will require organizations to hire for foundationational skills such as collaboration and critical thinking, and then add technical skills as they emerge. Employers will also need to allocate more resources and strategic thinking to talent issues, and demand more flexibility from colleges, universities and institutes to help with lifelong learning.
  3. Continue to reform education to ensure students develop critical skills, rather than only accumulate knowledge and credentials. Some Canadian colleges and universities are doing that, with flipped classrooms and cross-disciplinary learning. But many are just getting invested in a world of learning that’s changing as fast as the world of work.
  4. Commit to a national goal of 100-per-cent work-integrated learning to ensure every student graduates with a co-op, internship or other meaningful work placement connected to their studies. Currently, about 55 per cent of university students and 65 per cent of college students benefit from this sort of experience. To fill the gap, we need another 150,000 annual placements – the equivalent of only 50,000 new jobs.
  5. Give Canadians control over a lifetime journey of skills. Singapore is widely seen as the country that’s got it right, with a program called SkillsFuture, a $1-billion initiative that gives every adult lifelong learning credits to use in hundreds of university, college and online courses. Think of it as an RRSP for skills.

When the G7 gathers to address a world in high anxiety, Canada has the chance to address one of the underlying currents of that concern – and to invest in a new generation that can lead us through an age of automation that will be more digital, global, connected and mobile than anything we’ve seen. In this new machine age, it’s our chance to remind the world that we’re human after all.

You can read the full report at rbc.com/humanswanted

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John Stackhouse is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at the Royal Bank of Canada, and a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

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