Subscribe on YouTube and never miss an interview!
Chandran Fernando
Managing Partner - Matrix360
Part of the Spotlight on the Future of Work

National Work and Skills Strategy: Purpose, collective vision and lifelong learning

Takeaways

  1. Equity and inclusion must be at the forefront in the workplace where business leaders embrace the financial and social capital that our diversity brings to the table in Canada.
  2. In the era of constant disruption, we need to focus on lifelong learning and skill upgrading through better linkages between the private sector and the educational system. We also need to instil a personal sense of responsibility towards continuous learning in current and future workers.
  3. Canada needs a national work and skills strategy that takes into account Canada’s unique and shifting demographic trends and that provides the framework through which the public, private and academic realms can collaborate to prepare the future generation for work and increase diversity in company leadership.

Action

There must be a multi-pronged approach by the Canadian government. Firstly, the Canadian government needs to further develop partnerships with the private sector; more connections to SMEs with incentives like tax credits to companies that upgrade their employees’ skills and knowledge. Secondly, we need targets and incentives in the private sector to deliberately increase and build a sustainable pipeline of diverse and equitable executive and board leadership. Third, there must be an overhaul of the post-secondary system on how our students are taught, encouraged and developed for the future of work. Lastly, it is mandatory that the leadership systems that represent the private and academic sectors be reflective of Canada’s rich diversity. The methods the private and academic sectors use to recruit, support, advance and promote leaders must be examined and shifted to focus on equitable and inclusive practices. We need to focus on positive rather than negative reinforcement. Diversity cannot be just a marketing tactic but must be truly embraced and reflective of Canadian leadership within the public, private and academic sectors.


What trends and forces do you see shaping the Canadian work ecosystem?

There are several. However, two key areas are workplace dynamics and the shift in the workplace demographics. Generally, there seems to be a lack of a sense of purpose, higher disengagement and lower productivity amongst employees in the workplace. The “open” concept of work – that is, virtual desks and no defined personal space to work, coupled with a lack of transparency – has been failing for the past 8 years because people no longer feel that they belong to something. The core truth is that we are humans; we want to be connected, to have a sense of purpose, collaborate and build meaningful relationships – we want to build and thrive in communities. However, the open concept structure – or lack of structure – fails this foundation of human connectivity. The open concept workplace, with all its flexibility, is negatively affecting productivity because it lacks the ability to create a solid foundation where collaboration meets a collective vision that conventional workplaces create. Further, employees need to feel that they belong to something. Humans have been conditioned throughout their life cycle to connect to something physical – a place that we feel ownership towards.  In terms of productivity and engagement, when employees feel a lack of belonging and lack of connection to the greater vision of the company, disconnection occurs, employee retention rapidly decreases and profitability is negatively affected. I strongly suggest that executive and board leadership teams be mindful to the governance processes and human resources systems that exist that are contrary to current workplaces and the future of work.

“The Canadian government needs to explicitly support, promote and mandate diverse senior and executive leadership teams in the workplace.”

Further, over the last three decades, workplace demographics have shifted towards more diversity of people in terms of age, gender, orientation, abilities, race, and ethnic and religious differences. However, the current workplace systems are not conducive to recruit, promote, support or advance inclusive leadership at the Executive and Board levels and this in turn creates an imbalance in the workplace as many people are marginalized and underserved.

As a country, Canada is proud that diversity is our strength. However, even though our current federal government committed to a feminist agenda where equity and inclusion are the centre of policies and actions, we lack practical tools and programs to make a more equitable workplace a reality.

At the end of the day, every person needs to have a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and to understand what value-add she or he offers to enable the business framework to thrive. Ultimately, people need to feel a connection to something bigger that improves the quality of others’ lives where leadership teams, be they in the public, private or academic sectors, are reflective of their beings.


How can companies future-proof themselves in terms of human resources?

There needs to be a system restart. Human resources is not a separate department and needs to be connected to the overall business strategy of every organization. The current systems that exist are operating from reactive modes and are not focused on the sustainability of an employee’s life cycle. Executive and board leadership teams need to further invest in the creation of clear and transparent processes where employees have a sense of purpose and feel included in the success of the business, and not just through individual performance.

Talent management strategies need to shift towards inclusionary practices. Current processes lack any depth to attract, retain or promote diverse talent into senior or executive leadership roles, hence the imbalance in the workplace. The excuse that there is a lack of diverse talent in the pipeline is a false dichotomy as Canada’s population is over 52% women and nearly 1/3 people of colour – and rapidly growing.

Progressive and robust internal programs to support and advance employees into the future of work are limited. Leadership teams need to invest more into learning and development initiatives and programs through partnerships with private or public academic institutions and government.

“Human resources is not a separate department and needs to be connected to the overall business strategy of every organization.”

The yearly employee performance models that leadership teams utilize to measure impact and employees’ success need an overhaul adjustment, too. To measure true impact on the business framework and employees’ performance, we need to implement internal financial incentives that are connected to performance, engagement and accountability. Also, we should move from yearly to quarterly employee performance models where employee and business goals are transparent and connected to the business’ vision and stakeholders’ requirements in a way that is clear to the employee and encourages their engagement in them. Furthermore, learning and development programs need to be connected and rewarded to employee performance models.

Lastly, the Canadian government needs to explicitly support, promote and mandate diverse senior and executive leadership teams in the workplace. Executive and board leadership teams need to be accountable to intentionally push towards inclusionary leadership at all levels within the workplace. It is a fact that when companies have gender and racially diverse executive leadership teams, profits are increased by over 35%.


How do you think artificial intelligence and automation will affect the future of work?

The effect of AI on the workplace is dependent on the sector and industry. In my opinion, AI is actually not going to replace people but will enhance their roles to become more efficient and build collaborative workplaces. The onset of AI is similar to the transition that occurred when the workplace went from typewriters to word-processors to computers then to SMART technology and devices. Successfully navigating these transitions is connected to how we are open to constantly learning and upgrading our knowledge, and how to think critically. AI and robots lack this crucial trait that humans possess: critical thinking. Also, it is imperative that employees own their responsibilities and are accountable to upgrade and continuously elevate their skills to transition into the future of work. The learning cycle is a two-way responsibility between current employees and business leaders. There must be a deliberate investment into learning and development by leaders in the private sector and the accountability to learn is in the hands of current and future employees.

There is going to be some displacement, particularly in the manufacturing sector. But, overall, AI will elevate and enhance the workplace to increase efficiency, collaboration and innovation.


How must our educational institutions evolve to best prepare Canadian graduates for the future of work?

Our post-secondary educational institutions are failing our current and next generation of leaders. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between expectations conveyed to graduates and the realities of the workplace. There is also a disconnect in effective post-secondary internship and co-op programs with the private sector. Post-secondary institutions are not preparing new talent for the future of work despite internships and co-op programs constituting a third of student learning. The individuals who manage and administer internships or co-op programs are not invested in the success of the interns but are focused on the quotas and brand of the institutions. Along with the lack of understanding of the demands and expectations of the private sector, many administrators fail to match interns with opportunities that benefit the business framework and interns’ learning cycle.

True alliance partnerships need to be established between the private and academic sectors. Recently, there is an increase in case competitions for post-secondary students and graduates where the private sector is invested in the students’ learning cycle.

“Post-secondary institutions are not preparing new talent for the future of work despite internships and co-op programs constituting a third of student learning.”

Furthermore, academic institutions need to focus on building emotional intelligence into undergraduate programs’ curricula; critical thinking and the importance of collaboration must be taught. In addition, the framework of digital learning platforms and the shift towards the gig economy must be taught to students and leaders in the private sector. The workplace is evolving. Academic institutions must be aware of the implications of this evolution on our current and next generation of leaders, and the effects on the future talent pipeline.


Does Canada need a national work and skills strategy?

Yes. Absolutely. We are in the era of innovation and disruption. Canada needs to recognize and embrace the diversity of its people and the unique demographics in the Canadian workplace. It is the first time in Canadian history that there are five generations working together; Canada has one of the highest migrations of newcomers of any G7 nation – 1 million newcomers by 2020; over 52% of the workforce is women; Canada’s urban centres have between 45% and 52% of people who identify as a person of colour; the Indigenous population grew by 42.5% since 2006 – which is more than four times faster than the rest of the population; and more than 52% of the working population possesses a post-secondary education. Given these data points, Canada needs to create and invest in workplace strategies that support, promote and advance the importance of diversity and inclusion at leadership levels. In addition, there needs to be an increase into Canadian R&D, partnerships with Indigenous groups, and the creation of regional economic hubs across the country.

Moreover, Canada needs to create a robust platform and policies through which the private, public and academic sectors are able to align partnerships that prepare the current and future Canadian workforce for the future of work.

“Canada needs to create policies and targets that encourage leaders in the private sector to embrace continuous learning for employees.”

Lastly, Canada needs to incentivize the private sector using the carrot rather than the stick to increase innovation, collaboration and diversity in its leadership chain. Canada needs to create policies and targets that encourage leaders in the private sector to embrace continuous learning for employees. The private sector needs to remain competitive, relevant and to sustain healthy workplaces where engagement, productivity and innovation thrive.

In simple concrete terms, there must be a multi-pronged approach by the Canadian government. Firstly, the Canadian government needs to further develop partnerships with the private sector; more connections to SMEs with incentives like tax credits to companies that upgrade their employees’ skills and knowledge. Secondly, we need targets and incentives in the private sector to deliberately increase and build a sustainable pipeline of diverse and equitable executive and board leadership. Third, there must be an overhaul of the post-secondary system on how our students are taught, encouraged and developed for the future of work. Lastly, it is mandatory that the leadership systems that represent the private and academic sectors be reflective of Canada’s rich diversity. The methods the private and academic sectors use to recruit, support, advance and promote leaders must be examined and shifted to focus on equitable and inclusive practices. We need to focus on positive rather than negative reinforcement. Diversity cannot be just a marketing tactic but truly embraced and reflective of Canadian leadership within the public, private and academic sectors.

Related Spotlight Interviews Spotlight Interview 10 Million Canadians Will Have to Do Completely Different Jobs by 2030 Dominic Barton Managing Partner Emeritus - McKinsey & Company Spotlight Interview Lifelong Learning Will Be an Integral Part of Canada’s Future Economy John Stackhouse Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO - RBC Spotlight Interview Canada Needs a National Work-Integrated Learning Strategy to Prepare Students for the Future of Work Valerie Walker Executive Director - Business/Higher Education Roundtable
Chandran Fernando
Managing Partner - Matrix360

Chandran Fernando is the Founder and Managing Partner of Matrix360 (formally Matrix Search Group). He is an advocate and partner for gender and racial equity in the workplace. The Matrix360 brand is an extension of Chandran’s core principles and people-centric approach: to build the future of the workplace where diversity is recognized, equity is embraced, and inclusion is the outcome.


Matrix360 is an advisory firm with over 18 years of experience in talent management and workplace strategy for Corporate Canada, specializing in the Commercial Real Estate and Development (CRED) industry. Its extensive experience in Workplace Strategy & Design; Search & Talent Management; Learning & Development; and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging has positioned Matrix360 as a credible and trusted advisor to many businesses, large and small. It partners with business leaders for the alignment of human performance with positive business results.