21st-Century Workforce Survival Guide

By Jessica Thornton and Creig Lamb
March 28, 2017

Emily Fan, like many of us, wasn’t always tech-savvy. She completed her undergrad in political science at the University of Toronto, and began her career as a summer student at the City of Toronto. After several years with the City, she steadily rose through the ranks and eventually became a senior budget analyst, working on a large-scale IT project. It was in this role where she gained exposure to a whole new type of work in technology—one that opened up infinite possibilities.

Eager to dive into this new world, Emily, while still working for the City, began taking online coding courses in her spare time. She eventually took the plunge, leaving her secure job and enrolling in a full-time coding bootcamp with Bitmaker. Equipped with new skills, she pursued a full-time career in Canada’s growing tech sector. While changing careers was no easy feat, she landed a job with a local startup, and helped to found Rail Girls TO as well as Civic Tech Toronto. Emily is now happily employed as a software developer at Shopify in Toronto and her skills are in higher demand than ever before. The truth of the matter is, while Emily’s path will not be the path for everyone, digital skills are becoming increasingly critical for all Canadians, no matter what type of job you end up working in.

With 42 percent of Canadian jobs at risk of being affected by automation, we know that the future of work is changing. While our research tells us that workers of all ages will be impacted, youth aged 15 to 24 are especially vulnerable. In 2011, youth in this age range comprised nearly 20 percent of high-risk employees in Canada, but made up only 13 percent of the labour force.

Technology impacting the future of work is not a new phenomenon, but thus far all job loss predictions have been wrong. When it comes to the future of work, the only certainty is that there will always be uncertainty. However, what we do know is that technology does drastically alter the types of jobs available, eroding the need for routine or predictable work, and increasing the value, productivity and demand for higher-skilled workers.

Technological trends also mean an unprecedented pace of change and the use of technology across industries, beyond those traditionally considered tech. A U.S. study found that that 20 percent of all career-oriented job openings in 2015 were for roles valuing coding skills. Similarly, the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that between now and 2020 across 15 major economies, data analysts and software developers are expected to be the major driving forces behind job creation across a broad range of industries, from financial services to media and entertainment.

As a result, entrepreneurial competencies such as problem solving, creativity, risk-taking, managing uncertainty, and social intelligence will increase in importance.

However, jobs in many growing industries, including those in the tech sector, often require highly skilled workers with many holding at least a bachelor’s degree, often in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Research tells us that this presents a challenge for a significant proportion of Canada’s youth. For instance, women only make up 39 percent of STEM field graduates aged 25 to 34, despite representing 66 percent of non-STEM graduates. Meanwhile, local evidence suggests that even high school graduation rates are disproportionately low for Canada’s Indigenous, black, and Latin American youth, preventing their ability to even apply for university. It is no wonder that Canada’s tech sector is facing a diversity challenge.

So the question becomes: How might we ensure that all youth, especially those who will feel the greatest burden of automation, gain the critical skills and experiences needed to thrive in today’s uncertain economy? How do we ensure that more youth become success stories, like Emily Fan?

To help us better understand the impacts of technological trends on Canada’s youth, and how to prepare them for the future of work BII+E teamed up with RBC to produce our new report, Future-proof: Preparing young Canadians for the future of work. Although the report suggests many potential interventions, we think one of the answers is access to digital literacy, especially for youth who are currently underrepresented in the tech sector. We think it also means developing programs that integrate technology-based learning with soft skills development.

And we are not the only ones to think so. The 2017 federal budget emphasized a commitment to supporting coding and digital literacy education for young Canadians, with an additional focus on teaching basic digital skills to underserved populations.

In line with these commitments, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship is currently working with partners like the United Way Toronto & York Region, Boys and Girls Club Canada, YMCA, Ladies Learning Code, Actua, Toronto Public Library, Shopify and RBC to develop and test possible solutions. Supporting inclusive growth in Canada is a priority for us, and we look forward to sharing our exploration with you in the coming weeks.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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