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Business Commentary Flexible, versatile workers will be key for future job types: report

Vanessa Federovich is vice-president of human resources and corporate services at Roche Canada.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum released The Future Of Jobs, a report that examines worldwide trends in employment, skill sets and recruitment. The report argues that, as a global community, we are standing on the precipice of a fourth Industrial Revolution. It suggests that the disruption inherent in the adoption of new technologies, coupled with broader economic, political and demographic developments (including an aging population and the threat of a shortage of skilled workers), offers industries, employees and employers around the world an important but narrow window in which to adapt.

It underscores the pace of this change – "65 per cent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don't yet exist."

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A daunting statistic indeed. But, what does this mean for Canadian jobs and the future of work here?

First, it means we need to be adaptable. Arguably, the single most important determinant of the success of our country's future businesses and professionals will be their ability to not only accept change but also thrive in a continuously evolving and challenging environment. It's not survival of the fittest; it's survival of the most adaptable.

While flexibility and versatility may come naturally to some, it can and should be taught. Future productivity and prosperity depends on a collaborative commitment between business and academia to continually evaluate and rethink our approach to education. Many schools do a fine job teaching the practical skills necessary in a specific subject or area of study. What sets candidates apart, however, is their exposure to a curriculum that encourages teamwork and innovative thinking and offers students real opportunities for leadership well before graduation.

As an example, because technology and science are always changing, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum encourages students to be comfortable with that kind of constant evolution and the need to think about how and why things are shifting. A quick scan of jobs in Canada right now reinforces the constant high demand and longer-term growth outlook for careers in the technology, science and engineering sectors.

Second, it means we need to look for, and value, experiences. Aside from traditional work experience, businesses committed to sustainable leadership need to identify individuals who are creative, forward-thinking and comfortable with ambiguity.

In addition to asking about traditional technical skills, recruiters need to probe candidates about more individual experiences: their travel adventures, the books they've read and the times they've pushed themselves outside their comfort zone and tackled the unknown. Employers benefit when they capitalize not only on their employees' formal training but also on their perspectives on the outside world, the trends they see and the creative solutions they think can effectively and successfully apply to their business.

In a 2011 report, 94 per cent of U.S. business leaders agreed that being well-travelled was a competitive advantage in the workplace and, as Forbes has reported, "85 per cent of business leaders polled felt that their student travel experiences gave them an appreciation of other cultures and the confidence to try things even if it means failure."

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Finally, our collective, future economic prosperity relies on continuous, hands-on opportunities for interdisciplinary growth and development.

Innovation expert and author Alec Ross, assessing the industries of the future, asserts, "You've got to be a committed lifelong learner." By extension, companies must offer employees opportunities to explore roles outside their immediate functional areas and geography in order to enhance their skills and increase their exposure and overall positive impact on business.

Some companies, including Roche Canada, offer employees internship assignments designed to provide them with exposure to alternative functions and departments under the direction of a mentor. Here, they can actively participate in placement programs to explore careers in our Canadian operations or other markets.

At the end of the day, there is no going gently into this next wave of innovation and complex, global transformation. As the Canadian businesses and professionals who will define our own future of jobs, we must proceed purposefully, thoughtfully and with the confidence to not only welcome but also celebrate the challenge of change.

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