Citizen perspectives on labour automation

Citizen perspectives on labour automation

We visited over 36 communities across Ontario, and asked over 300 Ontarians about their understanding of labour automation, their reactions, and the programs they think will help them adjust
Illustration of robot and human interacting with screen and communicating with each other.
Jessica Thornton
May 3, 2018
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Preparing for AI and Robot Talks

From AI doctors, to virtual assistants, technology is changing the types of work we do. But what does this mean for the majority of Ontario workers? What change is coming, and how should we prepare? For employers, non profit organizations, and government specifically, there is need to understand how to design the right supports to ensure Ontario workers are able to successfully adapt to labour automation.

In our view, the best solutions are designed by engaging the user. With this in mind, and with support from the Province of Ontario, we developed Robot Talks, as a means to hear from over 300 Ontarians about their understanding of labour automation, their reactions, and the programs they think will help them adjust.

In collaboration with Jane Farrow and her team from Department of Words & Deeds, we visited 36 communities, and held public meetings in Sudbury, Woodstock, Kingston, London, Windsor and Chatham. Those who couldn’t join us in person, shared their insights through an online survey. The results of these conversations can be found in this final summary report written by Leah Birnbaum and Jane Farrow.

What we learned?

While the report shares several key insights, here are a few gems:

  • There is broad mix of reactions to automation – some Ontarians are optimistic, some are anxious, and some are unsure. These reactions range significantly across sectors and geographies, showing the need for responses designed to fit the realities of specific regions, sectors and individuals.
  • Ontario workers want to be involved in the planning process. A collaborative approach to change management between employers and employees will maximize the effectiveness of technological change in the workplace.
  • Training plays a central role in supporting Ontario workers to adapt, but it needs to be tailored and responsive to both employer and worker needs. Training consortiums and other models that allow for collaboration among employers, post-secondary institutions or other training organizations, and in some cases unions, can foster the development of training programs that fill talent needs within a specific industry and region, and that enable workers to keep pace with changing skill demands.
  • Ontarians want more information on automation and its impacts. There appears to be broad interest in engaging in further conversations with government and across sectors about the implications of automation.


These citizen insights, as well as those outlined in the summary report, have informed our broader research on this topic, found in our most recent report, Better, Stronger, Faster.

This was our first attempt at incorporating citizen perspectives into our policy research, but it will not be our last. We look forward to building on these conversations and expanding this methodology to other research areas. Stay tuned.

For media enquiries, please contact Nina Rafeek Dow, Marketing + Communications Specialist at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.