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Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

What strategies might employers use to cultivate workforce skills for the digital economy? A panel of academic and business leaders tackled that question at The Globe and Mail’s Future of Learning webcast on October 27. The group discussed the most important skills for employees as technologies such as artificial intelligence continue to proliferate and the economy responds to the global pandemic.

Highlights from the conversation appear below the webcast recording. The webcast was the second event in a three-part series focused on future skills. Click here to view the first event from October 13.

Key takeaways from the conversation are below:

Focus on the foundations

Sean Mullin, executive director with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, cited findings from his organization’s Employment in 2030 report, including labour leaders' perspectives on the most valuable skills. Occupations expected to grow include those focused on digital technology, healthcare and jobs employees can do remotely. The five foundational skills related to these growth areas include persuasion, a service orientation, memorization, brainstorming or ingenuity abilities, and instruction. How these five skill areas interact with one another is also important, Mr. Mullin said.

Upskill and reskill your current workforce

Business leaders are working on cultivating these skills through employee development, said Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Toronto Finance International (TFI). Ms. Reynolds referred to a global survey in the financial services industry showing three quarters of CEOs polled are worried about the skills gap. Digital skills are key but 90 percent of the CEOs are also concerned about soft skills such as problem-solving, innovation, critical thinking and the ability to influence.

Businesses are increasingly focusing on upskilling and reskilling mid-career employees through experiential learning on the job and supporting their pursuit of new credentials, Ms. Reynolds said. Corporate culture is important to success – employees need to feel it’s OK to ask to upgrade their skills and knowledge.

Know the value of collaboration and uncertainty

Hossein Rahnama hires numerous employees right out of postsecondary schools. Co-op students account for 40 percent of his company’s new hires and the company formally hires 25 percent of these students once their education is complete. Mr. Rahnama, who is founder and CEO of Flybits Inc., a fintech company spun out of Ryerson University, prepares students by inviting them to collaborate with experienced employees on real-world projects.

A professor at Ryerson, he has also created an interdisciplinary program to bring students of subjects such as engineering, science, design, media and business together to work on projects carrying a lot of uncertainty and tight deadlines. This too helps prepare students to succeed in the workforce, Mr. Rahnama said.

Make it easier for employees to upgrade their skills

Employees don’t often have time to leave their jobs to embark on additional education and training so it’s important to provide programming online and on-demand, said Jessica Butts Scott, director of PowerED by Athabasca University, a program offering micro-credentials. The university built the program with input from leaders who oversee talent development at small, medium and large organizations. It offers courses in knowledge areas such as project management, digital transformation, leadership and soft skills, Ms. Scott said.

As micro-credentials proliferate it’s important for postsecondary institutions to develop common approaches and timelines for the programs, to provide consistency to employers and learners, she added.

Watch the full webcast above.

The event and series are presented with support from Athabasca University.

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