Simon Chan & Kathryn Kitchen
Vice President Talent, Academy, and Future of Work - Communitech / Head of Human Resources - Manulife

Intrapreneurship and the Future of Work

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  1. Younger workers are seeking to work for companies that embody their personal values and allow for consistent growth.
  2. A culture of continuous learning has to be implemented throughout the education system and at workplaces in order to prepare businesses and workers for the future of work.
  3. Through collaboration, academic institutions and workplaces can design programs that allow for the cultivation of talent that is ready for the future.


As the environment becomes more and more ambiguous with the arrival of the future of work, adaptability is going to be key in ensuring success. Employers should encourage workers to become intrapreneurs, so they can develop solutions for real world problems.

What are the fundamental forces shaping the future of work in Canada? 

Simon Chan: When it comes to the fundamental forces shaping the future of work in Canada, prior to COVID-19, we would have tended to talk about three general trends: one is the pace of change—we all know that change is happening at an exponential rate whether it be through technology or globalization.  

“We are working with five different generations right now in the workforce so that leaves a lot for leaders to have to contend with.” 

Simon Chan, Communitech

The second is demographics. The shift in demographics is a big shift in terms of how we work and the expectation of the workforce in terms of how personalized they want their experiences to be. We are working with five different generations right now in the workforce so that leaves a lot for leaders to have to contend with. 

The last one is longevity. We talk a lot about the 100-year life—lifespans are increasing and we have people living to 100 years old. What that means is that careers are a lot longer. When you put all those things together, you have to adapt a lot—people are working over a longer period of time so that requires them to shift multiple times within their careers. That is not something that we have done in the past. If you layer COVID-19 on top of that, that is the accelerant that has really fuelled those three other trends to accelerate on a number of different areas within the future of work. Those are generally the trends that we talk about that are influencing the workforce and the workplace.  

Thank you very much, Simon, and I am now going to turn to Kathryn. Perhaps you would like to complement what Simon has told us? 

Kathryn Kitchen: What Simon suggested is absolutely accurate. The piece I would add is the pace of learning and the skills that people need to learn are wildly different than they were 10 years ago. We know 30% of the skills that you used last year are not applicable today and you will need to relearn them or have an equivalent of a master’s degree almost every 10 years. When we think about what we need to learn, it is really those human-centric skills: collaboration, partnership, creativity, and we also need to continue to work along with machines. That is something that if you started your career 20 or 30 years ago, was not what was expected when you first entered the workforce.  

Who should lead and what can be done to prepare our future workforce? 

Kathryn Kitchen: It is the community that needs to lead, with so many different players and stakeholders. Academia has a role to play in helping to build our pipeline for the workforce and keeping our workforce relevant with technology, future trends and skills. The workplace has a role to play in helping to identify what skills we need 10, 15, or 20 years out. These older groups are the groups we need to support from a skills augmentation perspective. We need to ask how we build learning agility into our culture and growth mindset. Employees have a role to play because they need to take responsibility and accountability for their own learning journey, dedicating time and from a mindset perspective, to be incredibly curious about what is next and what they can learn.  

“Students, whether undergraduate or people who are mid-career, need to solve real world problems in real time to add value to businesses.”

Simon Chan, Communitech

Simon Chan: A lot of what we need to be thinking about when it comes to skills development moving forward is around those human skills and entrepreneurial skills: the ability to pivot and adapt to the environment. The environment is increasingly ambiguous so we need to find ways to create new solutions and solve problems. How do we take that and create that curiosity mindset in our educational institutions? How do we teach real world problems and not just provide downloads of information centered on recall? We need to take concepts and principles and provide them within our education system because students, whether undergraduate or people who are mid-career, need to solve real world problems in real time to add value to businesses. It is really at a community level that we need to look at bringing together those various sectors to build a system that spans academia and the private sector, to create the skills and pathways needed to build on the continuous learning mindset that Kathryn talked about. 

What does intrapreneurship mean and how does a company foster a culture of intrapreneurship?  

Kathryn Kitchen: Intrapreneurship has certainly started to evolve within our organization and we are seeing it in a couple of different ways. We are looking for creative solutions to help drive value for our customers and we are finding it not only within our employee population but from new employees, particularly from scale-ups or with wildly different experiences and different industry knowledge. It is coming up in the sense of asking a very purpose-driven question, for instance, how we can improve the customer experience, how we can help them make decisions easier and their lives better, and what that might all look like. We are seeing it in informal ways with great ideas coming to the fore, but we are also seeing it in programmatic ways.  

We ask people to bring their true strengths to the table. As you mentioned, someone might be a great innovator and someone else might be great at scaling an idea. We get cross-functional teams together and ask everybody to bring their full self to that table. 

Simon Chan: What I have seen over the last number of years around intrapreneurship within organizations is the desire to build that mindset of curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. The one thing I would add is that it is important for organizations and leaders to provide the context and definition of what intrapreneurship means within their organization and their sector.  

“Canada will see growth in intrapreneurship skills if organizations and academic institutions work together to build these types of programs.”

Simon Chan, Communitech

How do we create empathy around a customer and think much more from a design perspective? How do we then take those things and apply them in the real world and in real-time to impact businesses? A lot of academic institutions are focusing on things like work-integrated learning where there is much greater integration between work and learning and it is applied right away. From what I have heard from employers, that is what they are looking for. They want to see a return on investment (ROI) in training and development in the near term, and they are not going to wait for three or four years, or even two years for a diploma or a degree. It is really around short bursts of learnings, direct application, and value to the individual and organization. Canada will see growth in intrapreneurship skills if organizations and academic institutions work together to build these types of programs. 

What are some of the early findings of the Future of Work and Leaning Coalition?  

Kathryn Kitchen: There are three learnings that I would highlight for us: one, the next generation of the workforce. The University of Waterloo did a brilliant study on Gen Z and what they are looking for in their employer. Fifty per cent of Gen Z said they would not join an organization that did not line up to their values, even if their skills matched the role. Organizations are starting to change and think about the value proposition that they offer to the new workforce. Gen Z and Millennials will make up 75% of our workforce by 2025.  

“Fifty per cent of Gen Z said they would not join an organization that did not line up to their values.”

Kathryn Kitchen, Manulife

The second learning we had is for our mid-career employees and colleagues. They know they need to learn, based on our primary research, they just do not know where to start and what that contract looks like between employer and employee.  

The third learning that we had from our primary research, particularly in the manufacturing sector, is two things: one, they are ready and excited to be able to work with machines; they are just not sure what role they are going to be playing in the future. A lot of the workers we interviewed said, “I need to provide for my family but I am worried my body cannot handle 30 to 40 years of this.” They want to know how to have gainful employment, a meaningful career, still do what they love, and be able to handle it physically. Those are three things that we have taken away from that primary research. 

If you could pitch someone in a position of power to best prepare Canada for the future of work, what would you say?  

Simon Chan: I would pitch government and communities, and I would say that access to talent is going to be a significant opportunity for us to grow our future economy in Canada. CEOs have already identified through multiple surveys that talent is going to be the biggest priority for them post-pandemic. COVID-19 has accelerated a number of various aspects within the future of work like remote work, the need for rapid re-skilling and up-skilling, new forms of work, gig work, freelancing, as well as overall well-being such as physical and mental health. These are not challenges that one organization, academic institution, or government can tackle on their own. 

What I would really advocate for is the creation of more forums and opportunities to work across sectors and organizations to share learnings around the future of work and co-create the future of work. What we need right now is co-creation and that intrapreneurship mentality of proactively trying to seize opportunities and solve the problem of how we move forward and grow our overall Canadian economy. 

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Simon Chan & Kathryn Kitchen
Vice President Talent, Academy, and Future of Work - Communitech / Head of Human Resources - Manulife

Bio: Simon Chan is the Vice President of Talent, Academy, and Future of Work at Communitech. Prior to this, he was the Head of Corporate Innovation Thought Leadership. He was also with Manulife for 14 years, where he held various leadership positions, his most recent being Assistant Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Retail Markets. He has a Master’s of Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University 


Kathryn Kitchen is the Head of Human Resources at Manulife. She has been with the company since 2014. She has served with major corporations in Canada, including BlackBerry and Deloitte, where she also specialized in human resources. She is also a Field Supervisor for the Masters of Human Systems Intervention program at Concordia University, where she obtained her Masters of Arts. 


Organization Profile: Communitech is an organization that provides services and support to primarily tech companies in Canada. Their range of services include coaching and advisory services, training and skills development for workers, connecting companies to key networks, advocating for public policy, and brand building for the Waterloo region and Canada as a whole. They are headquartered in Waterloo.  


Manulife is an international financial services group. They operate primarily as John Hancock in the US and as Manulife elsewhere. They provide financial advice, insurance, as well as wealth and asset management solutions for individuals, groups, and institutions. They are headquartered in Toronto, with over 37,000 employees, 118,000 agents, and thousands of distribution partners, serving almost 30 million customers.