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Circuits

Spotlight on our bold bets: They don’t teach Latin in schools anymore

By Duncan Sinclair

The news these days is full of stories about how disruptive technologies will change the nature of work. That makes sense, given predictions that up to 40 percent of Canadians may lose their jobs due to automation in the coming decades. While Canada currently enjoys the benefits of a highly educated workforce and low rates of unemployment, a recent Ipsos poll revealed that we know the status quo won’t last: over a third of us fear we won’t be able to keep up with the pace of technological change, and half of us believe the days of single-profession careers are over.

While change is upon us, the good news is that we still have time to act―as long as we do so urgently. Canada is filled with resilient, forward-looking people who understand the best course of action is to prepare for the coming storm. It’s about more than simply surviving: Canadians also want to live in a more economically inclusive and prosperous society 25 years from now. To achieve this we’ll need to train—and retrain—citizens for ever-evolving fields of work. 

First, we must first fundamentally transform our education system and our approach to professional (re)development. This is a bold bet, to be sure, but one our research has identified as critical to Canada’s future prosperity. (Read more in our report Bold bets for our country: It’s time for deliberate action.)

Bring everyone to the table

A key recommendation of our recent research was that rather than try to predict the jobs of the future, the business community should take the lead in bringing business, government, and academia together to create new models and approaches to retraining that help people respond and adapt quickly to ongoing job turmoil. 

Today’s approach hasn’t fundamentally changed in several generations. It’s a linear path with distinct phases: study, work, retire. While this model has served us well in the past, we know it won’t be enough to handle the fast pace of constant disruption to entire job categories. The shelf life of skills keeps getting shorter. By the time someone finishes a two-year degree program or apprenticeship, for example, her skills may already be mismatched with the labour market and what employers need. 

Imagine a more flexible way to keep pace

The age of disruption can bring significant opportunities to help solve the pending challenges we see to the future of work. Technological innovation can play a crucial role in helping both inform and implement a new way of teaching and learning to help people remain flexible in their career paths throughout their working lives. We need a much more agile approach, one that reflects the diversity of ways in which people learn. 

Allow me to share a personal example. A friend of mine is a long-haul truck driver, a career at risk of massive disruption from autonomous vehicles. The career advice he’d most likely get today is to go back to school, train in a different field, and then go look for a new job. 

Imagine a future where, rather than signing up for a course or an online training program, he registers on a website that assesses his existing skills. If these are transferrable to another field, he’s matched with employers seeking those kinds of skills. (Perhaps we could even call this service “Plenty of Jobs”…)

Let’s say the online assessment instead identifies that my friend could benefit from upgrading or learning new skills. He’s then matched with education and training programs to help him re-orient his career as well as with employers who can offer micro-assignments or co-op-style work terms to help him bridge the gap between education and work. 

While co-op education is commonplace in many universities, there’s no easy access to this type of work program for people who aren’t enrolled in school. Meanwhile, micro-assignments are growing in popularity among students because they provide practical work experience—but these also aren’t as readily available to those who have already been in the workforce for a while. (We highlighted micro-experience platforms like Riipen in our report Bold bets for our country.) 

Why couldn’t we apply training models such as these more broadly, beyond students and recent graduates, to help Canadians disrupted from their jobs get back to work faster?

This is the kind of bold thinking we need to secure a prosperous future for all Canadians. Rather than fear technology and the changes it brings, we need to embrace it. We must use it to shape the future of work we want rather than let it shape our workforce. 

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