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John Stackhouse
Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO - RBC
Part of the Spotlight on the Future of Work

Lifelong Learning Will Be an Integral Part of Canada’s Future Economy

Takeaways

  1. In 30 years, an AI and automation-driven world will create a greater need for critical soft or human skills such as creativity and collaboration. These will add much higher value to the economy and will create opportunities for work that is more rewarding and fulfilling.
  2. Both work-integrated learning and lifelong learning will become important aspects of Canada’s work culture in the future. The latter will require the active enhancement of skills for one’s career and more individual agency in the lifelong learning process. The notion of unanticipated skills mobility will be really important in the years ahead.
  3. Employers will need to become resilient and adaptive to continue to grow in the future economy. They will need to learn how to retrain workers for the skills they require.

Action

We recommend the creation of individual skills accounts, which allow employers and governments to contribute money towards individuals’ skill development. The government should let the private sector do more on the “work of the future”. It must let companies innovate and test more.


What will the future of work look like in an AI and automation-driven world?

I see AI as more of an opportunity than a threat. The future of work will be a marriage of human capital and technology capital leveraged with financial capital. It can create enormous economic opportunities.
We will need to upgrade our skills for an AI-driven world, but we have to be very careful not to fall for the short-term allure of coding. There is an underlying foundation of coding that is really important for people to know. It does not necessarily mean that they need to know how to code. While we are investing in these new hard skills, we should not be losing sight of increasingly critical soft skills or human skills.

“The future of work will be a marriage of human capital and technology capital leveraged with financial capital.”

In 30 years, I think we will have the ability to take away the monotony of work. We will be able to use technology to liberate people to do more creative or collaborative work that adds much higher value to the economy. Moreover, the work will also be of a higher intrinsic value; it will be work that is more rewarding and fulfilling.


How can we better integrate the education system with the worlds of work and business, and the skills they require for the jobs of the future?

While we do have one of the best post-secondary education systems in the world, it is not where it needs to be. We are impressed with certain US states like Tennessee, Texas and California in terms of the interconnectivity between large companies and educators.
RBC is trying to do a bit more both as an employer and a corporate leader to ensure students have work-integrated learning opportunities, co-ops, internships and apprenticeships. The second step is to look at how returning students bring knowledge back to the classroom and how they take the dynamos in the classroom into the workplace.
Lifelong learning is a bigger bridge to cross. While universities and colleges have always had continuous education programs, we need to redefine lifelong learning as not just a night course but the active enhancement of skills for one’s career. We also see the need for more individual agency in the lifelong learning process.
Moreover, we have recommended the creation of individual skills accounts, which allow employers and governments to contribute money towards individuals’ skill development. Singapore has done some interesting work on this front. RBC is also pushing for 100% work-integrated learning across all Canadian post-secondary education. So, every student will have the opportunity to complete a meaningful work placement during his or her education. I also think that we need a much better platform to connect job seekers and employers based on their skills. By connecting on the basis of skills and not positions, both sides may unexpectedly find a suitable solution for their needs and interests.


How is Canada positioned for the age of disruption?

The world is very competitive and a range of emerging economies are becoming increasingly skilled. But, Canada is very well-positioned for a number of reasons. Firstly, the diversity of the people we have and continue to attract is a huge advantage since diversity is a strong variable in innovation. Canada is well known as one of the world’s most diverse countries, particularly in the urban centers where innovation is thriving. We also have a post-secondary education system that is fantastically positioned to help transform the skills of young and adult Canadians. The community college and polytechnic system in the country is unique to Canada and is married to the more research-focused university system. This combination creates a very good educational platform for lifelong learning. RBC is actively involved in the Business/Higher Education Roundtable with the aim to increase the interconnectivity between employers and educators. The initiative wants to ensure that we are not only learning from each other but also harnessing each other for innovation.

“We need a much better platform to connect job seekers and employers based on their skills. By connecting on the basis of skills and not positions, both sides may unexpectedly find a suitable solution for their needs and interests.”

When we look at the future of work, the notion of unanticipated skills mobility is going to be really important in the years ahead. The skills needed for the jobs of the future are going to change. In our report, “Humans Wanted”, we were able to cluster the 300 or so occupations that make up our economy. There are six clusters and within each cluster, every job is within a handful of skills of every other job. It was really eye-opening that someone could go from being an underground miner to a veterinary technician fairly easily.


What should companies be doing to prepare themselves for the future of work?

The first step is for companies and businesses to develop data capabilities. For example, I recently spent time with a dairy farmer who only hires people with Excel skills to work on her farm.
Secondly, companies need to be adaptable and resilient. Just like employees will need to develop new skills because their current job may become obsolete five years from now, employers need to learn how to retrain workers and be resilient. In addition, global and cultural awareness is critical in the world of the future. This is not just because Canadian companies will be working all around the world, but also because foreign companies will be coming here. So, the ability to understand and navigate those cultural nuances is increasingly valuable.

“The diversity of the people we have and continue to attract is a huge advantage since diversity is a strong variable in innovation.”

I think the government has a key role in promoting these behaviours. I would suggest that the government should let the private sector do more on the “work of the future” front. It must let companies innovate and test more.


How is RBC tackling this issue of reskilling for the future of work internally?

RBC is having conversations with many thousands of employees on skill development and is trying to help them see how their world is shifting. We are also helping them see their own foundational skills and the skills they would need to do different kinds of work. Finally, we are asking them how RBC can help them acquire those skills.
We are also launching a pilot with Coursera, Google Canada and Walmart to develop an 8-month course in tech support work. This is how we could help employees who want to move into tech support work but do not know how to. Over an 8-month period, RBC will perhaps cover some of the costs and the employee will cover the rest.
In capital markets, RBC is bringing in very different skill sets. We just hired a couple of music students for our capital market team and are looking more into design schools and other general arts programs. We want to find talent that not only has an awesome amount of curiosity and creativity, but also an ability to adopt and learn.

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John Stackhouse
Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO - RBC

John Stackhouse advises RBC’s executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.


Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is Canada’s largest company, and one of the world’s largest banks based on market capitalization. It has a diversified business model with a focus on innovation and providing exceptional experience to its 16 million clients in Canada, the US and 34 other countries.