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Canadian Youth in the Age of Disruption: How automation is changing the Canadian (and global) workforce

The way people work is changing and it will only continue to change over the next decade as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) play a bigger factor in industries worldwide. It’s estimated that nearly 50% of Canadian jobs will be disrupted due to automation and, as this change continues to occur, companies of all sizes will be affected. Jobs such as those of retail sales positions, administrative assistants, food counter and kitchen workers, cashiers, and truck drivers, for example will be at a high risk of being severely impacted by automation [pdf]. Other jobs, mostly those that require critical thinking or interpersonal skills (such as retail and trade managers, nurses, teachers and other educators) will be at a lower risk of massive disruption.

Some are calling it “the Intelligence Revolution” [pdf], while others are focusing on the human skills element [pdf] and the long-term effects that more automation and AI will have on the country overall, particularly when looking at the young people that are entering the workforce. This generation of youth will likely be the most significantly affected as the labour landscape evolves to incorporate the latest technological advances.

In an effort to prepare citizens, companies, and governments for this transformation, leaders in finance, business, and innovation are starting the conversation now, projecting what the future of Canada’s workforce could look like so that we’re all more prepared.

Within our own organization, we see these changes already occurring, both in terms of the types of companies and products we invest in and support, but also in the types of people we look for to power those companies.

Let’s take a closer look at how automation is changing the Canadian (and global) workforce and what companies, governments, and people can do to embrace this change early on.

Preparing for the labour transformation

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Three main areas should be focused on in an effort to embrace this inevitable change, sooner rather than later. First, workplaces will need to be restructured to encourage and promote transferable human skills within employees, changing how people are hired and trained. Second, the educational curriculum will need to be adapted to reflect the new labour market. And third, the increasing popularity of “the gig economy” (in which people work on short-term contracts or on a freelance basis more and more), will need to be incorporated as a new working standard. Making changes to these three interconnected pillars of the labour market of the future will ensure that current employees, as well as future ones, can still thrive in a labour landscape that includes automation and AI.

Shifting the nature of work to focus on transferable human skills

There are some things that computers cannot do the same way humans can. These “human skills”, such as critical thinking, creativity, innovation, on-the-fly problem-solving, curation, interpreting visual evidence, being empathetic and/or caring, displaying social intelligence, active listening, cross-cultural communication/collaboration, management, etc., are the human advantage over machines. These types of skills are transferable across workplaces and they should be the skills that educators and employers seek to develop in their students and workers.

As these transferable human skills become the focus of schools and workplaces, new role-types will redefine the contemporary job market. These archetypes will include new job “titles” like innovator, creator, influencer, integrator, curator, and the like, focusing on the human intelligence and skill that current automation and AI is unable to develop.

By creating ongoing training and retraining opportunities for human workers, governments and companies can ensure the creation of an agile, flexible workforce that will be able to adapt as more non-human workers become the norm. Focusing on promoting digital literacy (not necessarily teaching everyone to code, but teaching people how to use tech solutions as useful tools), will help even the non-tech savvy adapt to the coming changes.

Using automation technology and AI where it’s most useful (such as with repetitive tasks that don’t require critical thinking) and leaving humans to do the rest of the high-value work will create a distinct delineation between the types of jobs that are available to human workers. This will free up human resources to power the interpersonal and problem-solving aspect of work, while machine resources will be used to accomplish the more monotonous, repetitive tasks.

Higher-skilled human work will also mean higher demands on the educational system that’s producing higher-skilled workers. To facilitate this focus on transferable human skills for the labour market of the future, a transformation to the educational curriculum will go a long way in preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s workplaces.

Changing the educational curriculum to reflect the new labour market

Six Woman Standing and Siting Inside the RoomToday, babies are being born into a world that is surrounded by technology. Many children know how to use a tablet or smartphone before they’re able to speak full sentences. Learning how to code is becoming a part of the educational curriculum more and more, with digital literacy already being prevalent among youth.

However, just simply teaching youth how to code will no longer be enough to future-proof them for a career. While technical skills will still go a long way, they will only be an aspect of the high-value human skills needed in the workplaces of the future. With tech stacks changing all the time and new innovations disrupting ecosystems frequently, more than just teaching youth how to code is needed.

The evidence we’re seeing so far is that technical skills shouldn’t really be relied upon much beyond two and a half to five years.” –Stephen Harrington, senior manager at Deloitte

By adjusting the focus of certain aspects of the curriculum, governments can help guide future generations of workers to be resilient to the changes of automation and AI. Training youth to develop their human skills alongside their knowledge of a certain area will help them thrive in the workplace. This training can be done as part of their education through focusing on more experiential learning opportunities such as co-op terms, internships, and apprenticeships where students gain work experience within organisations in their fields of study. Tech companies like Riipen are also aiding in promoting experiential learning as a critical part of higher education. Prioritising intelligent decision-making, analysis, and creativity over repetitive task completion will also help youth who enter the labour market to find and fill positions that are complementary to their human skills.

As well, governmental and educational institutions should structure programs around a particular country’s industry strengths. In Canada, for example, financial technology (fintech), agriculture and food production technology (agritech), mining, water and ocean technology, aerospace robotics and technology, tools for the digital economy, healthtech, and cleantech are industries in which we are strong as global leaders. Continuing to develop those sectors, while also adapting educational curriculums, especially at the post-secondary level, to further strengthen them will be a key factor in embracing the changes to the labour market.

Once students have completed their programs and participated in carefully designed experiential learning opportunities with the help of industry partnerships, they will be ready to apply their human skills in any workplace. By ensuring that graduates have access to ongoing training opportunities such as leadership workshops, communication and cross-cultural training, and more, governments and employers can future-proof these youth to adapt to a new, automated status quo. Constant learning will be a staple part of employability in the future.

However, the educational curriculum will be one side of the coin. The other side will come in the form of overhauling the economy to accept a more fluid and flexible way of working, thanks to the increasingly popular gig economy.

Accepting the gig economy as a new standard of work

Two Women Sitting on Chairs in Front of Each OtherAs more companies seek employees with transferable human skills, the way we work will have to change, both within a company’s structure, but also within governmental labour regulations.

Once the prioritisation of developing human, high-value skills in employees becomes the new norm, the human workforce will be made up of employees that are very versatile. An employee will be able to use their transferable skills to work for multiple companies in a particular role. Some may even be able to do multiple roles, depending on their skillset. Developing entrepreneurial thinking in workers will aid them in adapting to any situation to make use of their high-value skills. This disrupts the more traditional, rigid company structure to create an opportunity for more flexibility within a given organisation. Workers can be taken on as needed to complete various aspects of the high-value human work and they can be shared among teams, departments, or even companies to optimise their contributions. This will ultimately also change current hiring and training practices within companies as businesses adapt [pdf] to this new type of employee.

As many younger people are already embracing the digital nomad type of lifestyle, being able to work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, the traditional definition of what a “career” is will also change. Working remote, working from home, working internationally, and working flexible hours will become the new norms, establishing a much more mobile, shifting type of career trajectory.

As these changes naturally occur, governments will have to adapt to accommodate them within economic regulations. Tax and labour laws will be affected, as will social safety nets, unemployment services, and more. The labour laws and support services around employment [pdf] will need to change drastically as the gig economy, characterised by short term contracts, longer periods of unemployment, and more leisure time, becomes the new standard of work and full-time or stable positions decrease in prevalence.

Both employers and governments will need to adapt their policies and organisational structures in order to make way for these versatile, multifaceted workers. Part of this adaptation should also come in the form of developing standardised platforms across provinces and regions, disseminating skill and job information through interactive, up-to-date, and easily accessible tools. Another part should focus on developing ongoing skills training for workers through tighter collaboration between public and private institutions. In this way, Canada’s future labour market can mitigate the potentially negative impacts of automation [pdf], while optimising the positive ones.

Embracing the future

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The future is coming, there’s no doubt about that. And preparing for significant disruption to the labour market is a critical aspect of being able to adapt to the changes that more automation and AI within the workforce will bring. By preparing people for this transformation, particularly young people who will make up a large percentage of the workforce, we can help embrace the change early on to steer future generations of workers in the best direction.

These trends are not exclusive to the Canadian labour market, however. All of these changes in the workplace will occur on a global scale, forcing other nations to also go through the growing pains of the “intelligence revolution”.

Many of Alacrity’s Canadian and global companies are already working towards this more automated and artificially intelligent future [pdf], both through the products they offer and through the people they employ. Understanding and making use of these technological advances today ensure that these companies can be leaders in tomorrow’s labour market as well, becoming pioneers in discovering and applying AI and automation in innovative, useful ways.

For example, CareerJSM uses AI to help job seekers find better opportunities faster, Certn is automating people screening for the job and rental markets, and HYAS uses AI to provide human employees access to more data, allowing them to leverage their high-value skills to do their jobs more efficiently and accurately.

These are just a few of the companies we work with that are already embracing automation and AI. By building products around the next stage of technological advancements and by providing workplaces that already embrace the fluid nature of the future of work, we hope to contribute to an easier transition for employees and employers alike.

We also engage with local universities and actively recruit graduates to lead the companies we invest in, prioritizing people, their human skills, and the work culture they create when selecting candidates. By creating, fostering, and facilitating ecosystems where people and their unique skills matter most, we will continue working towards a brighter future for workers in Canada and beyond.

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