- Disruptive technology and rapidly progressing economic power shift from West to East is driving unprecedented disruption in the jobs and skills of the future economy. Out of Canada’s 18 million-person workforce, as many as 10 million workers will have to do completely different jobs by 2030.
- Governments, companies, educational institutions and other stakeholders all have very key roles in driving Canada’s preparedness to produce, attract and retrain employees to perform in the jobs of the future. A multi-stakeholder approach is necessary to meet this challenge.
- A cultural shift towards a mindset of lifelong learning is essential for Canadian companies and workers to be successful in the future economy.
We must all do more in terms of culturally adopting a mindset of lifelong learning. Governments must get a better picture of the skills required in Canada’s future economy. Companies and business leaders need to be very clear about the skills they need and re-evaluate their talent position every three years. Academic institutions must innovate and incorporate work experience in their programs. And students should be very ambitious and prepare themselves for lifelong learning.
What are the major trends you see impacting the future of education, skills and work in Canada?
We are in the early stages of incredible disruption driven by a power shift from the West to the East from an economic point of view. Technological disruption is an even bigger force of transformation. It is not just artificial intelligence and automation, it is material science, energy storage and so forth. Then we have the social instability from income inequality and displacement; 500 million people in North America and Europe have been experiencing stagnant or declining income over the last 10 years. All these factors are combining to bring significant disruption in the future economy.
“Through all of humanity’s economic shifts, we have underestimated the scope for job creation.”
Out of Canada’s 18 million-person workforce, as many as 10 million workers will have to do completely different jobs by 2030. Through all of humanity’s economic shifts, we have underestimated the scope for job creation. Whether it was the industrial revolution in the 1800s or the impending AI-led economic revolution, we assume the worst possible future with technology displacing millions of workers. On the contrary, we estimate that there will be at least 50 million new technology jobs in the world by 2030. There are already significant shortages in some skill categories like data science. In the last decade in France, the internet has created 2.4 jobs for every job that it destroyed. I do not think there will be a dearth of jobs, in fact there will be more jobs than we think. But, we will have to reskill our workforce to be able to do those jobs. This has huge implications for our education system and career profiles.
Which sectors of the Canadian economy will see the most job creation and job losses?
First of all, I look at it from the perspective of the types of work that will be most affected by automation. Job losses will occur in routine and predictable work whether that is physical or administrative. For example, driving, data entry, basic manufacturing, retail and food preparation are at serious risk of automation. Having said that, it is not only a blue collar versus white collar job debate. A big chunk of routine but high paying jobs in accounting, consulting, law, private banking and financial advising are going to be automated.
Jobs requiring complex social interaction or technology use will either be unaffected or will increase. Healthcare, enterprise sales, software development and data science are great examples of that type of work. Healthcare, in particular, is going to be one of Canada’s greatest job growth drivers. We are tight on health regulation for good reason, but we need to be more agile in terms of health innovation and adoption in order to unleash our potential. The increased demand for health services is definitely out there, so we need to open up healthcare to entrepreneurship and job creation.
What can Canadian companies do to manage this transition toward the future of work?
We cannot underestimate the scale and speed of this type of change, so it is important for companies to take some responsibility for it. The Royal Bank of Canada produced a very interesting report called Humans Wanted, talking about the reskilling challenge and what needs to be done.
There are some amazing examples out there of how companies are preparing for this change. For example, AT&T has reskilled tens of thousands of workers during the process of automating their call centers. The displaced workers have been offered a pathway to new jobs at AT&T after going through online part-time training. It is in the interest of companies to retrain their talent, but we have to rethink how we do it, given the speed at which the shift is occurring and the age of the people who need to be reskilled.
What advice would you give to business leaders when it comes to talent management in this age of disruption?
First of all, talent is a core part of any strategy; there can be no business plan without a talent plan. All organizations are always thinking about how to improve their performance. The world is changing quickly and companies need a broad skills plan. So, business leaders need to be very clear about the skills they need and re-evaluate their talent position every three years. That is going to help businesses understand what they need to do on the hiring side; what type of people they hire, where they hire from, and how they hire.
“Companies need to identify the 2% of roles that drive 80% of their value improvement over the next 2 or 3 years.”
Some colleagues and I recently wrote a book called Talent Wins, which includes some simple suggestions that a lot of organizations do not typically follow. Companies need to identify the 2% of roles that drive 80% of their value improvement over the next 2 or 3 years. Those roles are often three levels down in the organization, they are not at the top of the house. Once the 2% are identified, companies should specify the five or six tasks they are supposed to do and the competencies required for those tasks. The next step is to assess incumbents in comparison with world-class competitors in these roles, and then recruit the right people for the jobs.
I think some of the leading thinkers in the area of talent management are in Canada. The Business Council of Canada, Linamar and the big banks are all focused on talent in the future economy. We are not behind the curve, but we need to accelerate the scale of ambition and our intensity of efforts here.
What roles must government and our educational institutions champion in this transition?
The government does have a real awareness, appetite and focus on future skills and is trying to set up a future skill center. It has put significant resources behind this initiative to get a better picture of the skills required in Canada’s future economy and the various ways that large and small companies can reskill people. Canada has been very agile in this regard and is way ahead of the curve. That said, there is much more to be done when it comes to culturally adopting a mindset of lifelong learning. In the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, we suggested that people should not just save for retirement, but also for reskilling. In addition, the clock speed is going to have to go up when it comes to deregulation or streamlining regulations related to talent. Canada also needs more collaboration between provinces, universities and businesses. We are too small to do things in a fragmented way. I am really excited by the Superclusters because they are constituted of a critical mass of 10 to 30 or more organizations working together on a common theme. That kind of diversity and consolidation of capability has the potential to generate a lot more innovation, employment and talent over time – exactly what we need to succeed in the future economy.
“Canadian universities need to develop more part-time, piecemeal, two-hours-a-week type training programs.”
Coming to academia, Canada has amazing universities that are not only teaching basic skills but also entrepreneurship. Just like Georgia Tech’s retraining program for AT&T, Canadian universities need to develop more part-time, piecemeal, two-hours-a-week type training programs. For example, the National University of Singapore has launched a computer science degree that involves four years on-campus and one on-campus component every year for 20 years in order to upgrade skills. Moreover, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of vocational schools in providing much shorter and sharper part-time programs for reskilling. So, there will have to be more innovation in lifelong learning but Canada has a really good base to work from.
I also think students themselves have to adjust their mindset to succeed in the future jobs economy. They should be very ambitious collectively, not selfishly. They can build, play and operate in any part of the world, so should reach for the stars and be global. Also, they must prepare themselves for lifelong learning. While learning hard skills is beneficial, it is even more important to focus on the softer skills like teamwork, persuasion, dealing with challenges, taking risks, and bouncing back after failure. The key to this is building your character muscle through different experiences.