Employer needs for re-skilling in an era of technological change

Employer needs for re-skilling in an era of technological change

Addressing the challenges of talent and skills development in an innovation-driven economy means taking a unique and fresh approach
Photo of people working and meeting together at a conference.
Private: Andrew Do
Policy Analyst
April 20, 2018
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The world is changing rapidly, and nowhere is that felt more acutely than in the workplace. Technological advances are leading to companies automating tasks that traditionally were done by humans, leaving many workers with the choice of either learning new skills or finding new jobs – and in some cases needing to do both.

At the same time, companies that are developing or using these new innovations are struggling to find the talent they need to grow. A talented workforce in an innovation-based economy can mean the difference between success and failure for a company. Both sides – workers and employers – are going to need new solutions to workforce development that fit this new reality. There are a number of factors to consider when designing new approaches to support training and talent matching.

Future skills, today

Our research indicates that 42 percent of the Canadian labour market is at high risk of being impacted by automation within the next 20 years. The anticipated changes in the labour market will also impact the skills required for workers to remain competitive. A recent report from RBC suggests that roughly 50 percent of occupations will undergo a significant skills overhaul as a result of technological disruptions. While these disruptions may eliminate some jobs, they also present an opportunity for new job roles.

For example, jobs requiring digital skills are expected to be in high demand in the near future. According to an Information and Communications Technology Council report, the information and communications technology sector is expected to seek an additional 216,000 workers with technology-oriented skills by 2021. Evidence also strongly suggests that technological changes in the workplace will increase the value of social skills among workers as these skills are more immune to automation. RBC’s report reinforces these findings by suggesting that there will be 350,000 job openings in 2021 for workers who possess a high degree of critical thinking skills and social skills.


It is essential that training be informed, or even led, by employers, to ensure that it reflects the processes that fast-growing companies use to attract and evaluate talent and the skills they are looking for.

Policymakers are thinking about mid-career workers

Policymakers are now turning their attention to the impact this skill transition will have on mid-career workers. The scale of this transition is massive. McKinsey estimates that as many as 375 million workers, or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce, will need to switch jobs. There is recognition that the skills development infrastructure required to rapidly re-skill adult workers is not currently in place.

The Advisory Council on Economic Growth highlighted the urgent need to develop this infrastructure, suggesting the need for a third pillar of skills development, focused on working adults, to build on the first two pillars of K-12 and post-secondary education, and supports for the unemployed and retired. The Council suggests that this could be achieved in part through the development of a new Future Skills organization that would pilot new approaches to helping adult workers up-skill and retrain. The Government of Canada’s 2017 budget adopted this recommendation, committing $225 million over four years, and $75 million thereafter, for the creation of this Future Skills organization, which is slated to be launched this year.

The Government of Ontario, in its most recent 2018 budget, announced the creation of the Ontario Training Bank , to “serve as a one-stop shop for employers, job seekers and workers to access the skills training that meets their needs.”

Industry comes to the table

There are lots of different reasons people continue to engage in education throughout their lives – to support career goals, to broaden their horizons or for personal interest. When we talk about up-skilling mid-career workers, the objective is to help them obtain stable employment and to provide employers with a wider pool of talent that fits their needs. It is essential that training be informed, or even led, by employers, to ensure that it reflects the processes that fast-growing companies use to attract and evaluate talent and the skills they are looking for.

As part of our research for our recent report, Understanding the Talent Gap: Lessons + Opportunities for Canada, we spoke with over 30 start-ups and scale-ups in the Greater Toronto Area and Kitchener-Waterloo region, to better understand their skill needs and their perceived challenges in securing needed talent. We synthesized our findings around four broad stages that employers undergo when recruiting talent.

Synthesized findings on the process of recruiting talent for start-ups and scale-ups.

Building a solution: Palette Inc.

These insights come from initial research to understand how work is changing and what talent fast-growing companies are looking for. Translating this research into action, however, requires a systematized approach to capturing the changing nature of work, the demands of workers and the talent needs of employers.

Our solution, to that end, is Palette Inc. The Brookfield Institute is incubating Palette, which will serve as a platform for helping mid-career workers to reskill and fast-growing companies to find needed talent. As highlighted by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth in their Learning Nation report, we see Palette Inc. as a vital building block for a new pillar in Canada’s skills development infrastructure, focused on supporting the job and skill transitions of mid-career workers.

Technological change will no doubt bring about workplace disruption; however, new responses that focus on the needs of both mid-career workers and employers have the potential to strengthen Canada’s innovation-driven economy in a way that works for everyone.

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