Better, faster, stronger: Maximizing the benefits of automation for Ontario’s firms and people
Ontario faces a dual challenge: automation technologies have the potential to improve productivity and competitiveness, and to generate more jobs and prosperity over the long term, yet many Ontario firms have hesitated to invest. At the same time, when firms adopt automation technologies, the disruption to jobs and tasks—and thus to workers’ income and well-being—can be significant. For Ontario firms and workers to thrive in the age of automation, we need to find ways to increase firms’ lagging adoption of automation technologies, while also equipping workers with skills and opportunities to adapt and thrive in a changing labour market. This report provides a grounded and detailed picture of the extent and nature of automation trends in Ontario and identifies strategies to help public, private and non-profit sector actors navigate this dual challenge. Rapid technological advances, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), have heightened concerns about automation and the potential for job loss. These concerns have prompted a number of studies—each pointing to a large proportion of jobs or tasks that are susceptible to automation. While useful in highlighting an issue that deserves attention, the studies tend to overemphasize the risks of automation. First, most focus on whole economies, overlooking how impacts will vary by region, sector, firm and worker. Second, they tend to focus narrowly on jobs and tasks that could be automated by existing and emerging technologies in theory, and do not analyze the many factors that affect firms’ decisions to automate and thus the actual rate of automation in the economy. Finally, these approaches tend to focus more on the potential for automation to eliminate jobs or tasks, and less on the potential to augment or create jobs and enhance firm productivity and competitiveness. To fill these gaps in understanding, this report offers a more granular and nuanced understanding of automation in the Ontario context, and of the dual challenge it presents. It closely examines two sectors that are broadly representative of Ontario-wide trends—manufacturing, and finance and insurance—and explores the experiences and perceptions of Ontarians from different communities. The analysis draws on relevant data, existing literature, interviews with over 50 stakeholders from the two sectors, and engagement of over 300 Ontarians through interviews, public consultations and an online survey. This report is also informed by the guidance offered by an Expert Advisory Panel of 14 individuals with academic, technological, and industry expertise.