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the future of work

There are few phrases that come to mind that instigate more awe – or fear – than "disruptive technologies." On the one hand, it infers a new, more efficient world with endless opportunity, limited only by the imagination. On the flip side, it suggests turning existing business models inside out and leaving many jobless in its wake. While the current, popular imagine of disruption sees a male taxi driver (literally) driven out of business by new technology platforms, it may be women over all who draw the short end of the employment stick in this latest industrial revolution.

According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) called The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, job categories with the highest growth, such as architecture and engineering, currently see the lowest level of female participation. Meanwhile, the job clusters with the highest rate of female participation, such as office and administration roles, will be the ones most easily disrupted.

Although the report observed that while women's participation in the work force is often shaped by national policies and cultures, it highlights four industries in which women are particularly under-represented: basic and infrastructure (chemicals, infrastructure and urban development, mining and metals); energy; mobility (aviation and travel, automotive, supply chain and transportation); and information and communication technology. These industries also experience a more dramatic drop-off of women between junior and senior levels. With current projections, the energy sector will have the lowest participation of women in junior roles out of any other industry by 2020.

While the change in job opportunities might not be obvious at the moment, there is the potential for the shift to occur abruptly and affect employment quickly, according to Colleen McMorrow, a partner at Ernst & Young. She recommends that companies need to move quickly to correct the gender imbalances by increasing the number of women in the "talent pipeline" of these industries and then encouraging them to stay.

The impact of increased job losses for women won't only hurt them and their families, but companies as well. Ms. McMorrow cites research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Ernst & Young that shows companies with leadership teams comprised of at least 30-per-cent women can add six percentage points to their net margins. In another example, Ernst & Young's Women in Power and Utilities Index 2016 demonstrated that the top 20 most gender-diverse utilities outperformed the bottom 20.

"There's a clear financial advantage to having a diverse work force, period. Without diversity, companies would miss out on innovation and insight to capitalize on future opportunities for growth," Ms. McMorrow said.

To remedy this situation, Carol Darling, P.Eng, the president of Darling & Daughters Ltd., a consulting firm with particular expertise in helping companies transition to new technology solutions, said educational institutions will need strong support from government and industry programs to raise the profile of technical vacations and encourage more women to enter these fields.

"It will become critical that young women find their way into these vocations in order to retain employment opportunities," said Ms. Darling, who was formerly the vice-president of engineering and broadcast systems for Shaw Media.

"In addition to a potential gender imbalance in our work force, if we do not do a better job raising the profile of technical positions for both young men and women, Canada will be disadvantaged in this new industrial age," she said.

While the WEF report signals out women as suffering the most job losses from entrepreneurial technologies, they certainly won't be alone.

A new report from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) at Ryerson University shows that automation will affect nearly 42 per cent of the Canadian labour force. Included among those at the most risk are roles such as office support, administration, sales, services and transportation and distribution.

"No one is 100 per cent inoculated from this [automation] but digital literacy – not necessarily a computer programmer but the bucket of skills that involve being able to work with software hand-in-hand – would probably be the single most important skill I'd want to develop if I were in college or university right now," said Sean Mullin, executive director of BII+E. He added that jobs requiring creativity, judgment and soft skills are likely going to be on the tail end of what gets replaced, so those skills will likely make you more adaptable to the market forces.

For those currently in the work force, the key is continually investing in education and training.

"Know where the role is evolving to, and stay ahead of it so you can demonstrate to an employer you are changing along with the technology of the company, and make it clear how you can further contribute," advised Eileen Dooley, vice-president of VF Career Management, a national career transition and human resource consulting firm.

"No one should get comfortable in their roles," she added.

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