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Skills for an automated future

Globally, labour markets are adapting to the impact of new technology, and the demand for skills is changing to match. This change was described by one participant at a Canadian Chamber of Commerce roundtable as, “moving from a knowledge economy to a wisdom economy.” Some economic sectors are seeing a decline in employment, while other sectors are struggling to find the workers with the skills they need to grow. This report examines the impact of technology and the implications for training systems and skills development, in light of six main questions: (1) Who is going to be replaced? How many people is this going to affect? (2) How many might retraining all of those people cost? Cam we afford it? (3) What is the upside of automation? Why would we embrace it and how? (4) How are we doing at giving people skills they need so far?; (5) Will every group in Canada be able to acquire the skills needed to be employable? What can we do about it? (6) What kinds of connections do businesses, government, educators and students need to build so they can better manage this transition? Waiting until after employees lose their jobs to automation and relying on traditional full-length programs could mean a training challenge affecting hundreds of thousands of people and costing an estimated $6-18 billion per year. But, with better measurement of the skills people have and the skills jobs demand and by making training an ongoing activity, we can cut this cost to a manageable level. Employees can build essential skills that are resistant to automation in advance and adapt to rapidly changing technology by accessing new learning mechanisms, like short duration programs, micro-credentials certification of work experience and self-directed learning. Businesses need to view employee development as a competitive edge for attracting and maintaining the best talent and raising productivity at all levels. By supporting a wide range of skills pathways, businesses can develop a culture of ongoing skills development. Educational institutions need to build on new learning pathways, expand recognition of prior experience, support self-directed learning and work in partnership with business. Collaboration models, such as program advisory committees and sector councils, can ensure technical skills taught by programs remain relevant to the workforce and support the adoption of new technology. Finally, government support for employee development requires updating funding mechanisms for training to recognize the various educational pathways and ensure quality and access. The measurement of the skills and competencies needed in the workforce, the transferability of qualifications and more flexibility for educational institutions can all support the workforce adaptation for future technology.