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A place-based lens to the future of work in Canada

The ‘future of work’ has become the subject of considerable research and scholarship in light of technological trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation more broadly. To date, most research has focused on the labour market overall or potential effects within specific sectors or occupations. This research can tell us which parts of the economy are most susceptible to automation, but it does not necessarily point us toward the geographic areas most at risk. Place-based analysis of what these trends will mean for different communities is still nascent. Yet early signs indicate the impacts could differ significantly between urban centres and rural areas. And that could exacerbate pre-existing urban-rural differences in economic outcomes and labour market performances. This report aims to carry out an urban-rural scan. It applies a place-based lens to the research to explore the current urban-rural economic divide in Canada, how technology-induced disruption may exacerbate it, and what Canadian policymakers can do about it. The goal of this analysis is to identify potential urban-rural trends and start to develop policy options for Canadian governments. The preponderance of research points to asymmetrical effects between urban centres and rural areas. This is mostly a function of the sectoral composition and labour market characteristics of rural places. That is to say technology-induced disruption is expected to disproportionately affect rural labour markets due to their over-representation of ‘routinized work’ and less diversified industrial footprints. The result will be to hasten a growing urban-rural economic divide in Canada. This analysis comes with caveats. Projections on the impact of technology are informed yet ultimately speculative. They can be affected by unexpected developments such as geopolitical changes spurred by the [Coronavirus Disease 2019] COVID-19 crisis. And, of course, there is a role for public policy to shape the diffusion and adoption of new technologies across the economy.