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Future-proof: Preparing young Canadians for the future of work

T here are a number of major trends that have the potential to shape the future of work, from climate change and resource scarcity to demographic shifts resulting from an aging population and immigration. This report focuses on the need to prepare Canada’s youth for a future where a great number of jobs will be rapidly created, altered or made obsolete by technology.Successive waves of technological advancements have rocked global economies for centuries, reconfiguring the labour force and giving rise to new economic opportunities with each wave. Modern advances, including artificial intelligence and robotics, once again have the potential to transform the economy, perhaps more rapidly and more dramatically than ever before. As past pillars of Canada’s economic growth become less reliable, harnessing technology and innovation will become increasingly important in driving productivity and growth. The primary burden of realizing this enormous opportunity rests on the shoulders of Canada’s young people. To succeed in the knowledge economy, the pipeline of young talent will need to be dynamic and resilient, equipped with a broad suite of technical and soft skills. While youth are always the cornerstone of a country’s future workforce, the rapid pace of technology-driven change makes the task of effectively integrating them into the labour force more challenging—and more critical—than ever before. Failure to do so will not only inhibit Canada’s economic growth, but may result in a large swath of the population being left behind in the knowledge economy. Youth are entering a labour market where job requirements are becoming more complex. Entrylevel jobs are at a high risk of being impacted by automation, yet work experience is more important than ever. At the same time, underemployment, part-time, and precarious work are becoming more prevalent. As a result, it is becoming more challenging for youth to seamlessly enter the labour force.These issues are particularly salient for youth facing multiple barriers to labour force participation and for those who have traditionally been underrepresented in knowledge-based industries— including women and indigenous youth—some of whom represent the fastest growing segments of our population. The good news is that Canada has a strong foundation with some of the highest rates of educational attainment in the world, 4 and a tech sector that has never been stronger. 5 Canadian youth are highly skilled, well-educated, entrepreneurial and arguably among the best suited to adapt to the complex skills required for the future of work. No one sector can address this challenge alone. As Canada begins to focus more deliberately on inclusive economic growth, it is paramount that the country’s public, private and non-profit sectors work together to ensure that Canadian youth have the skills and experience to benefit from and drive technological progress. This report illustrates the need for urgent attention to be paid to this issue. It will start by describing some of the technological trends that are reshaping the future of work, and the challenges and opportunities they present for youth. It will explain the impact of these trends on the skills and experience that will be increasingly demanded of youth entering the workforce. Finally, it will outline potential avenues that can be explored to help ensure Canada’s youth are well-positioned to thrive and prosper in the future.