Creating an inclusive labour force in the next digital age
Looking to the future of work, we see a clear need for Canadians to build their digital skills. Our lives are becoming increasingly digitized, in everything from economic to civic and cultural participation. Consequently, Canada’s labour force requires a significant boost to our digital capacity in order to realize available opportunities.
The Information and Communications Technology Council forecasted that between 2021 and 2025, 250,000 jobs will be added to Canada’s digital economy. This includes jobs such as graphic designers, database analysts, cybersecurity experts and information systems analysts.
Even as Canada struggles to meet this growing demand, women, Indigenous youth and other groups remain significantly underrepresented in technology-skilled positions, according to the Council of Canadian Academies.
The question we need to answer is “how can we effectively upskill Canadians?” How do we build more pathways for career mobility so these digitally-skilled opportunities become accessible to even more people in this country?
FSC projects and research
First, it’s important to acknowledge that it is possible to support workers who want to transition from at-risk professions to in-demand digital careers.
Our research showed that 86% of high-risk occupations, such as administrative assistants or machinists, have at least one, if not more, transition pathways to rapidly growing digital jobs after a single year of training. Most people don’t need to be left behind by technological change and can make a switch to a digital career. Moreover, the amount of time and effort required to make a transition is often manageable.
There are many types of successful transition programs, but here are a few examples from our work:
NPower Canada prepares unemployed or underemployed youth across the country for technology careers by offering free training in digital and professional skills. In its first cohort, 85% of NPower’s graduates were employed or enrolled in higher education within 11 months. By its third cohort, 68% of graduates had done the same in only four months.
In Calgary, the EDGE UP program transitions displaced oil and gas workers to digital careers through a collaboration between the federal government, municipal governments and academic institutions. After 14 months, more than 70% of these mid-career workers found new employment in technology jobs or are furthering their education.
In the Greater Toronto Area, Rogers Cybersecurity Catalyst prepares individuals across the country for cybersecurity careers, especially those from underrepresented groups. Although women and persons of colour make up only 10% of Canada’s cybersecurity workforce, 57% of the program’s graduates are women and 68% of students self-identify as racialized persons.
We continue to analyze these and other promising models for insights that can be shared with others and here are two emerging lessons:
i) Training needs technical and non-technical skills
Digital upskilling efforts are most successful when they include both technical and non-technical skills, such as verbal communication and problem solving.
The programs mentioned earlier work to train “hybrid talent” — individuals who understand digital technology and can also match this technology to organizational needs. This is important since digital abilities may become outdated in three to five years, but non-technical skills can empower participants to adapt and remain competitive well into the future.
ii) Employer engagement is critical
For training programs to be successful, understanding what employers want and need is critical. EDGE UP, for example, spent more than six months investigating the skills needs of employers and NPower Canada partnered with more than 200 employers to understand their IT hiring needs.
However, many of our project partners say employer engagement remains challenging. It’s especially difficult in Canada because small-and- medium enterprises account for 90% of private sector employment compared to only 50% in the U.S. Because companies are smaller, Canadian programs often need to partner with more employers to provide the same number of job opportunities to their program participants.
It can also be difficult to persuade companies to put in the effort needed to design “on-ramps” for rapidly changing occupations or to revise their HR processes to accommodate non-traditional candidates. While the time and effort required can deter some organizations, research shows that employers who collaborate on transition programs see the benefits of lower staff turnover and higher productivity.
There is still much to do in this space, but transitioning individuals from high-risk jobs to high-growth digital careers is absolutely possible and we invite everyone to play a part. Consider hiring candidates from transition programs the next time you’re looking for digital talent or encourage your industry association to establish a partnership with these programs. Make sure your digital training initiatives also build non-technical skills and advocate for HR policies that embrace candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.
With the participation of stakeholders across the country, there is no doubt that Canada can ensure an inclusive and competitive labour force in the next digital age.
Gordon Chan is the Innovation Lab Manager at the Future Skills Centre. This blog post has been edited and condensed from his recent presentation at The Walrus Talks in Toronto on the theme of labour for the digital age. Watch the full, seven-minute video presentation here.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint, official policy or position of the Future Skills Centre or any of its staff members or consortium partners.