Closing the Canadian Skills Gap

We are about to experience a critical skills gap in the Canadian labour market. Skillful and experienced newcomers to Canada may be the underutilized resource our workforce needs to close it.

As Canadian businesses begin to see the benefits of robotics, artificial intelligence, expanding digital networks, new manufacturing technologies and collaborative connected platforms, these employers are reevaluating the skills and knowledge they value in their employees. A 2018 report by Royal Bank of Canada titled Humans Wanted identified that half of Canadian employers will go through a significant overhaul in required skills this decade. As a result, twenty-five percent of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by these advanced technologies.

While Canadian employers are anticipating the disruptive effects these technologies will have on their operations, many are not clear on how they will respond. According to McKinsey Global Institute, sixteen percent of global employers feel “very unprepared” for this shift. Over 1,500 reporting businesses in North America and Europe are uncertain as to what skills are needed for their future workforce. Eighty-two percent believe that retraining and reskilling will be crucial to closing this skills gap, while thirty-five percent believe that they will need to pursue new hiring all together.

This technological shift will likely be accelerated by COVID-19. The correlation between economic recession and employment disruption caused by technologies is well researched. In a 2018 report by economists at the University of Zurich and the University of British Columbia, it was found that during three recessions in the past 30 years, 88% of job loss occurred in positions that were considered to be “routine”.

While routine roles are being replaced, we can also anticipate that new jobs will follow. According to Royal Bank of Canada, the Canadian economy will create 2.4-million new jobs between now and 2021.

Newcomers to Canada should be ideally situated to step into those positions. The study concluded that, in addition to digital literacy, Canada’s employers will require global competencies like cultural awareness, language skills and adaptability — skills commonly held by newcomers.

However, in order for newcomers to be able to take advantage of this changing landscape, we must identify and tackle existing barriers to their employment. Cultural, environmental and psychological barriers that are not experienced by their Canadian-born counterparts.

In November 2014, Statistics Canada found 14 percent of university-educated immigrants who had arrived in Canada within the last five years were not working. A 2015 report conducted by Malatest and funded by the Province of Ontario and the Maytree foundation, determined that fifty-five per cent of the newcomers interviewed having a university degree (almost one third held a Master’s degree), 72% reported finding employment opportunities in their field was very challenging.

I believe we can tackle these barriers through skills training and by establishing new pathways for employers to discover this talent. Once we do, our new labour market can flourish with access to new talent.

Identifying the value of the newcomer workforce

When employers integrate diversity into the workplace, they benefit from new perspectives, global experience and cultural awareness that is not readily found amidst Canadian-born workers. Empowering these workers can enable business models to evolve. In 2018, Boston Consulting Group uncovered that North American companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. The study went on to identify how relatively small changes in management diversity can have profound impact on the direction of business development using the examples of reimagining operations and gaining traction in new markets.

Emphasising upskilling and soft skills training.

Disruption will look different for different industries. However, it will be characterized by a rapid rate of technology development and deployment. This makes it more challenging to forecast what skills will be the most valuable to employers and for how long. With this in mind, it does emphasize the importance of transferable soft-skills – such judgement, creative and critical thinking, problem solving. Skills necessary not only to contribute to a place of employment but also to navigate the process of securing employment. The rapid advancement of technology in the labour market also necessitates the importance of upskilling – learning new, incremental skills to meet professional opportunities. This is underpinned by the necessity for employees to be flexible; able to pivot as the labour market changes.

Exploring the potential of embedded education models.

When I talk about embedded education, I’m referring to the integration of employment in the educational experience. Two inspiring businesses come to mind – Samasource and Andela. Both of these businesses founded innovative platforms for aspiring professionals to learn valuable skills on real-time projects. They have established networks with corporations that benefit from affordable labour, while gaining the opportunity to monitor student growth and achievement. Students are essentially paid to learn and given the opportunity to showcase their abilities while assessing whether their skills fit within the context of the partnering business.

Not only will these models help us establish a new framework for employment within this new Age of Disruption, but they are also fundamental to the blueprint of long-term relationships between employer and employee. A symbiosis built on a foundation of shared values, trust, respect and mutual benefit.

What other type of relationship is truly worth pursuing?

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