Jenny Poulos
Senior Vice-President, Talent Services and Operations - RBC

Human Skills Needed for Canada’s Economic Recovery

Published on


  1. Human skills such as communication and critical thinking remain one of the most important skill sets needed for Canadian workers to prepare for the future economy.
  2. Robust programs are needed to help upskill and reskill workers to be more digitally literate.
  3. The pandemic affects different groups disproportionately, and more attention needs to be paid to integrate women and underrepresented groups into the economy.


Upskilling and reskilling Canadian workers for the future economy and for post-pandemic recovery needs to be a collective effort, involving employers, government, various organizations, and learning institutions. The pandemic has highlighted the need to put recovery measures into place for the long-term sustainability of skills development and prosperity for Canadians.

What is RBC seeing as the skills needed for employees to lead, to succeed in the future economy? 

We have done quite a bit of research in this area that you can find in our RBC Economics and Thought Leadership pages. What we are seeing and what we believe is that we still need human skills—technology and robots are not going to take over all of the work. The human skills, or foundational skills, are still really important. Through change we do need people to be resilient and adaptable, and critical thinking is really important. Technology will definitely augment and support a lot of our work, but it is so important that we have critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well. All of these human skills continue to be relevant and will be in the future. We do not see computers being able to think that way in the near future so human skills are really important going forward. 

“Through change we do need people to be resilient and adaptable, and critical thinking is really important.” 

We are seeing with COVID-19 quite a few of the skills that we had are quickly melting away, especially in some important sectors that have employed a lot of people, like in our hospitality, tourism and retail sectors—all those sectors where physical connection with people is a big part of what they do. We definitely need to determine what that work will be post-COVID, and we are already seeing that being shaped through COVID-19 with technology and e-commerce. COVID-19 is definitely putting demand on building digital literacy, which are important skills for the future. 

Are these skills needed specifically for the recovery? 

They are. As I mentioned earlier, human skills are required because of change. Building a resilient workforce and having resilient Canadians is important, and we are experiencing it now. What we are seeing in the workforce in specific sectors that have been impacted is that for low-wage, low-skilled workers, skills need to transform for them, and it is really about migrating into that digitally-driven economy. For instance, retail is an area where we are seeing the tremendous impact and adoption of e-commerce over the past several months, even in day-to-day grocery shopping. Because sectors are transforming, the work itself is going to change. The need to upskill and reskill lower wage, lower skilled employees will be important to prepare for those new jobs. There are other areas that are connected where there is going to be a number of displaced workers and so we need to transition them into new jobs. Understanding what those skills are going to be for the future is really important. Again, it is very digitally driven, and there will be certain sectors that will demand more and certain sectors that will be in place but will look different such as retail and potentially hospitality. 

What must be done to foster the skills that are needed for the future workforce? 

In terms of who must do what, I would say it is not one party. It does require an ecosystem of partners and leaders across all sectors. We do realize that our role at the Future Skills Centre is to work with many sectors, leaders, and government to enable that future for Canadians. We have put a roadmap ahead of us around what is required—we call it our skills playbook for recovery, and in that there are five things that we see very quickly that are really important as part of getting Canadian workers to come through this recovery. 

“Invest in easy access information around labour markets, the skills that are needed, and what is changing.” 

The first is to continue to invest in easy access information around labour markets, the skills that are needed, and what is changing. Secondly, Canada has to invest in different strategies that are going to support Canadians in making those career transitions. The third thing is to work with employers to understand the changes within industries and sectors, determine how we are going to reskill employees and to help them thrive for the long-term. The fourth pillar is to build networks and the tools that will allow for skills development to take place across the broader ecosystem. The last pillar is to really take an inclusive approach to skills development and making sure that we do not leave Canadians behind. Often, this means doubling down on our focus in some of the groups that are underrepresented in the workforce. 

What programs are helping Canadians upskill and reskill for the recovery? 

This is a really exciting area. The innovation happening in developing these programs and the energy surrounding what we have to do is very exciting. There are a number of programs that I can highlight now that we are testing, and these are programs that the Future Skills Centre has been partnering with a number of organizations on. They are very focused on the earlier point around sectors that are in need. Two that are emerging for us that I would like to highlight is a program called EDGE UP, and that is with Calgary Economic Development, where we have seen displacement in the oil and gas sector within Calgary. We are working with a number of post-secondary educational institutions around upskilling scientists, engineers, and more that had been employed within the oil and gas sector and providing them with learning that is appropriately targeted for them, that they could quickly pick up and migrate to a tech industry. This is a really exciting one that we are watching, already with pent up demand—there are at least 100 that are on the waiting list for this program. We are working with EDGE UP and a number of people in this group to look at how we could scale it to other provinces and potentially other industries. That is one program. 

“We are working with EDGE UP and a number of people in this group to look at how we could scale it to other provinces and potentially other industries.” 

The other one is a partnership with NPower Canada, and that is a program that is helping find workers for the growing tech industry, but it is specifically to help break down the barriers for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) youth. It is a very important area and we have built a program together with support by FSC that is helping vulnerable and underemployed youth currently in the low-wage service jobs that are at risk of melting away, to build their skills to be ready for the information technology industry. We have already had a few examples where we have seen this. We have already served over 1,000 youth and there has been a phenomenal success rate of 80% employment.  

What has been the pandemic’s impact on women in the workforce and what does this mean for the future economy? 

There has been a lot of news in the media the impact of COVID-19 on women. I have heard the term, and I am sure many of you had heard the term, “she-cession.” I do have some information, hot-off-the-press through our RBC Economics group. Last week, they released a study which shows that the pandemic has knocked female participation in the labour force from a historic high to a three-decade low. We are seeing more than a million women, even though they regained employment, we are still seeing two cohorts that have been impacted, and these are women in the age groups of 20 to 24, and 35 to 39. For those in the ages of 20 to 24, what we are seeing is they are largely coming back into education where they have decided to further their education. The group that is concerning is the 35 to 39 that may continue to drop out. It is a large number and it is largely due to childcare. Recently, with the federal government’s announcement around considering policies about universal childcare and affordable childcare, we think those policies will go a long way. What we have seen there is so much value in having women in the workforce because it furthers productivity and output.  

If you had 30 seconds to pitch someone to improve skills development in Canada’s recovery, what would you pitch? 

I would be consistent with my earlier messages and I would take the group because I do think it requires a group, call it a village, to actually do what we need to do. It is business leaders, politicians, educators, and others to come together to determine the various solutions that we would need to put in place and put this pandemic behind us. The pandemic has really highlighted the need to put recovery measures in place so that we have long-term sustainability of skills development and prosperity of Canadians.  

Jenny Poulos
Senior Vice-President, Talent Services and Operations - RBC

Bio: Jenny Poulos is the Senior Vice-President of Talent Services and Operations at RBC and the Chair of the Advisory Board at the Future Skills Centre. She has a long history of working in the banking industry, with specialization in workforce strategy, transformation, portfolio management, talent management, and business relationship management. She has been with RBC since 1989, and has held numerous top-level positions within the organization. She is also the Chair of the Advisory Board for the Future Skills Centre (FSC) 


Organization Profile: RBC, also known as the Royal Bank of Canada, is a Canadian multinational financial services company. Founded in 1864 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it is now the largest bank in Canada by market capitalization, serving over 16 million clients with over 86,000 employees worldwide. In November 2017, RBC was added to the Financial Stability Board’s list of global systemically important banks.