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We must do more now to prepare young people for the future of work

Dave McKay is president and CEO of Royal Bank of Canada.

On Vancouver Island, TimberWest is searching for foresters who can harvest data as well as trees. In Alberta, Suncor is working with First Nations peoples to build a new pipeline of talent, with aboriginal youth who can work with new technologies such as self-driving trucks. And in Toronto, Saint Elizabeth Health Care is looking to advance digital and communications skills to assist patients where they want – in their homes or remotely.

Across the country, we're seeing Canadians and Canadian companies embrace the next generation of technology like never before. Unfortunately, the way we go about educating and employing the next generation of Canadians isn't keeping pace.

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It's our quiet crisis and it's about to get a lot louder if we don't take the future of work more seriously.

Canada is at a historic crossroads, with the largest generation of young people now coming fully in the work force at the very same time as a revolutionary age of technology, from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things, is starting to affect every job in the country.

As the advisory council on economic growth, chaired by Dominic Barton, rightly pointed out this month, our economy is headed for "unprecedented change."

We think that impact can be for the better: better jobs, better incomes and a better society. But we need to be honest with each other about how the future of work will be different.

According to new research from RBC Economics, which will be published in the new year, Canada is on the brink of a skills revolution. Our team amassed a database of 300 occupations and drilled into the skills they require, today and projected in the future.

Among our conclusions: More than one-quarter of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the decade ahead. And fully half will go through a skills overhaul. Bottom line: Jobs will remain; they'll just require different skills.

We don't see this as a cause for despair. We think Canada is heading into an age of strong job growth – new jobs demanding new skills – as we improve our access to world markets and sharpen our innovation tools at the very time the baby boom is retiring.

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What will they need? Our research shows a growing demand for what are known as soft or foundational skills. We prefer to call them human skills, the ones that tend to separate good from great in every walk of life. Critical thinking and creativity, communication and collaboration – these will be the standout skills in the age of advanced technology. People who work well with technology and work well with people – that can be the Canadian difference.

We'll need employers, be they entrepreneurs or large companies, governments or creative outlets, to recognize that we're moving from a jobs economy to a skills economy. We will all have to hire, train, retrain and promote differently, to ensure we're not just putting the next generation in jobs; we need to help them develop portfolios of skills as the landscape of jobs changes.

We'll also need to start recognizing core skills and competencies, rather than the job skills that will change faster than ever. And we'll need to reform our education system to meet the unforgiving demands of a skills-first marketplace instead of a job-first one.

At RBC, we believe that urgency demands both speed and focus. We're committing $500-million over 10 years to empower young Canadians by improving every part of the problem: work experience, skills development and networking.

We call it Future Launch.

As part of this, we've started a "no résumé required" paid internship program, with selection based on skills, not work experience. We've also partnered with WE in support of WE Schools, to ensure young people at 8,000 schools across Canada are equipped with skills for lifelong learning and absorbing a curriculum based on collaboration, money smarts, problem solving and cultural fluency.

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And that's just the beginning.

The race to address this looming crisis will be a marathon, not a sprint. We are committed to be there at the start right through to the finish. But RBC is just one part of the solution. We're looking for answers by working hand in hand with schools, colleges and universities, as well as the governments that fund them.

So today, we're calling on every industry to join us. We're also asking the provincial and federal governments to work together with us to improve the prospects of Canada's youth as they prepare to lead our remarkable country in the decades ahead.

We don't know how much advanced technology will change Canada. We do know that through this time of change, Canada's greatest strength will be our youth – the generation that will shape 21st-century Canada.

It's time to invest in them now.

Census numbers released Wednesday show women are still vastly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math. McGill students are striving to change attitudes, and point to a lack of role models in those fields. The Canadian Press
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