Impact of 5G on Canada’s Workforce
- The future workforce must be skilled at working with intelligent objects and the Internet of Things within the next five to 10 years.
- As offices and schools become virtualized, there is a pressing need to close the digital divide within Canada.
- 5G is the next evolution of the internet and it can be used in all sectors, including agriculture and healthcare, to enable remote control of critical systems.
Canada needs a broadband policy that will enable a minimum of 1 gigabit per second within the next 10 years. What we currently have is insufficient, and governments must work with service providers from across the country to implement a 5G network. Otherwise, Canada cannot compete.
What are the forces shaping the future of work and skills development in Canada?
I would say there are few forces I can imagine and one of them obviously is digital transformation. This is going to affect many areas, and we have seen in the pandemic with remote work and mobility that this will have impacts on the workforce of the future—it is an enabler.
Another one is environmental factors. We can see that things like pandemics or climate change require that we include resiliency in our thinking for the workforce.
Another factor is globalization and the local economy. Before, we had a tendency to want globalization that was accessible to everybody, and it is going to be even more accessible—but at the same time, we do have pressure to reinforce the local economies, and these are two tendencies that will be working at the same time now.
“There is a tendency now to render science a bit less credible, and this may have some impact on the choice of the future generation of STEM work.”
The final part that has an impact is going to be the culture. We have a culture of science, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs. There is a tendency now to render science a bit less credible, and this may have some impact on the choice of the future generation of STEM work.
We also have the tendency to have gender agnostic jobs, so more and more we will not be identifying jobs to a particular sex, and this is a good a thing. We also have a different culture. Now, we have a corporate culture, but we also have the gig culture where you can have jobs that are by piecemeal and you act on a small contractual basis.
“There is a significant gap from the highest paying jobs to the lowest paying ones, that gap unfortunately is increasing, and it certainly has a way of shaping the future and skills development.”
We also have the question about age profile for work. We have an aging population and people that will be able to work at a more advanced age than before. We do have the question about being religion neutral—we have to be careful about that—and politically neutral is going to be a requirement for jobs. Finally, which may affect the workforce, is the gap in revenue. There is a significant gap from the highest paying jobs to the lowest paying ones, that gap unfortunately is increasing, and it certainly has a way of shaping the future and the skills development we need to lessen that gap.
How can our government, schools, businesses, employers and professionals adapt to these new realities?
We have to start thinking about virtualization of school and offices. Currently, there is a lot of thinking about brick and mortar, but we are discovering with people working at home and attending school remotely that all of a sudden, these technologies, including 5G, are making it easier to virtualize these things.
This requires some thought in terms of allowing a person to complete courses from many schools at the same time and get a diploma that would be validated by multiple sources. The questions that are going to be asked by governments is whether it is valid to have a certified professional with courses that were followed through the internet offered by other countries. The reverse is also true, Canada could take a lead in there and offer courses in other countries. Would they be contributing to the certification of workers? That is a question that I have.
The same applies for the fact that we have a virtual office environment. A virtual office environment has impacts on the question about insurance and workers’ compensation—what happens if somebody working from home gets hurt? There was worker compensation when it was in the office, but what happens if it is at home?
“A virtual office environment has impacts on the question about insurance and workers’ compensation—what happens if somebody working from home gets hurt?”
We then have the question about loyalty, which goes both ways; the loyalty of the employer towards the employee and the loyalty of the employee towards employer. If everything is virtualized, what happens to this attachment that you may feel towards a given employer or employee? These are considerations that have to be looked into—how do we offer a certain stability in the relationship between employer and employee?
Mobility is a strange thing. If we can have work that is virtualized, people can move but then they will choose places where the quality of life is better and cheaper. They are not going to stay in areas that are expensive, and these workers will be able to work from home so that will make a big difference.
We also have the question about the need for digital infrastructure that is going to be covered across the board, not just in cities. A lot of people are going to want to go to rural areas and this raises the question of whether the internet can be made available in rural areas. There are policies in place in Canada for bridging the digital divide, but they need to go a lot further than where they are going now.
Is 5G a key solution to address the issues around remote work?
ENCQOR is an initiative that is a network in Ontario and Quebec for research and innovation. It is centred around 5G and in that respect it has some hubs where we do have 5G antennas offering the possibility for those in Ontario and Quebec to try out the 5G technology in various aspects. Because it is a pre-commercial network, the technologies that are there are not necessarily commercially available even if 5G has started being deployed in Canada. For example, we do have a millimeter-wave frequency and mid-band that is not yet offered commercially, so those are enablers for companies and institutions that want to try it out.
How does 5G correlate the future of the workforce? 5G is not the solution itself, it is the technology—it is an enabler just like artificial intelligence (AI) or other technologies can be enablers. 5G has to be seen as something that can be used in many areas including healthcare and agriculture, whether it be for the digitization of industry or education, et cetera. From that point of view, it is important—it is as important as the internet itself. It is the next evolution of internet, because it allows for high speed and you can use it for remote control because of low latency.
“How does 5G correlate the future of the workforce? 5G is not the solution itself, it is the technology.”
All of sudden it becomes an enabler for critical systems, which previous wireless networks did not necessarily allow for, neither did internet technology because it was based on best effort. There are some technologies in 5G that can be enablers for remote operation of equipment, robots, and remote monitoring in real time, as well as protecting the privacy of data. Those are things that are good enablers that 5G can be used for.
There is a skill that is not often discussed these days: software and software development. Strangely enough, 5G has an enormous software component. We are talking millions of lines of code to make this work, and it is extremely complex. If we do have training on advanced software for real time systems, this is going to be an enormous enabler for a skill set that can be used in 5G and use 5G. Software, strangely enough, is key.
Is ENCQOR bringing together stakeholders to work on both infrastructure and skills development?
It is important to be able to work on the skills. One of the things that is interesting with 5G is that it supports virtual networks. This means that you can have a base network that is offered by traditional service providers like Telus, Bell, or Rogers, but within that, you can have your own network that can span the physical networks of many services provides at the same time. This offers the possibility of having private or specialized networks that can be managed by other entities and service providers, and the skills needed to do that—which we call orchestration—go beyond the traditional service operators, and having those skills is important.
Canada has to have a broadband policy that is going to be a minimum of 1 gigabit per second within the next 10 years. What we have today is way insufficient for what is coming down the pipeline. We must be able to offer internet and 5G and we must have high speed—and by high speed I do not mean the current definition, I mean ultra and very ultra-high speed—so that we can compete, and that has to be across the country.
“Canada has to have a broadband policy that is going to be a minimum of 1 gigabit per second within the next 10 years.”
There is no way that this can be done just by one entity. The governments have to look into ways of involving multiple kinds of providers that could offer this across the country. The technology is there, and it is possible to do it, and the business case is not obvious—but it needs to be worked out, and fast.
What will work look like in five or ten years?
All aspects of work, including those that are not remote, like the tourism industry, restaurants and retail, will be working with intelligent objects. Whether you are working remotely with a computer or locally, the Internet of Things (IoT) will come into play, and that is going to be a big game changer. People need to learn to work with intelligent objects. In agriculture, you can have intelligent tractors, you can have sensors that you can use in the field; in the healthcare you are going to start using intelligent devices. It can go very far because the support in 5G for the number of connected objects per square kilometer is very high—much higher than previous generations.
“All aspects of work, including those that are not remote, like the tourism industry, restaurants and retail, will be working with intelligent objects.”
Everything will be connected so people need to learn to interact with those things and master that—not be afraid of it—and understand the consequences that come with it.