I, Human: The digital and soft skills driving Canada’s labour market

Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship releases new report looking at which digital and non-digital skills will give you an edge in the job market
December 17, 2019
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Knowing which skills workers need to succeed in the labour market is not simple. Skills demands are constantly evolving and many jobs require skills from different domains. As a result, traditional sources of labour market information (LMI) often fail to offer a full picture. A new report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) sets out to uncover which specific skills and combinations of digital and non-digital skills matter most in the labour market.

Using data scraped from job postings collected by Burning Glass Technologies (BGT) from January 2012 to December 2018, containing 13,000 unique skills, I, Human: The digital and soft skills driving Canada’s labour market provides a new, demand-driven taxonomy for understanding the full spectrum of digital skills. It explores the specific digital and non-digital (including soft) skills that employers in Canada are seeking. This report aims to help inform the efforts of policymakers, educators and training organizations, as well as the decisions of students and job seekers looking to understand which skill combinations are likely to serve them best in the job market.

This work is made possible thanks to Burning Glass Technologies (BGT), with support from CESBA (Ontario Association of Adult and Continuing Education School Board Administrators) and D2L (Desire2Learn).

“Telling Canadians they need digital skills is not enough; we must be specific,” says Sarah Doyle, Director of Policy + Research at the Brookfield Institute.  “For example, despite the narrative on the importance of coding, machine learning techniques and other advanced digital skills, our research indicates that general digital skills, such as proficiency in Microsoft Excel, are actually more advantageous for the average person looking to compete in the job market. This new report furthers our understanding of the digital and non-digital skills that Canadians need to help advance their careers.”

Key Report Findings
  • Digital skills exists along a spectrum, covering a wide range of knowledge, expertise, and training. They belong to four distinct categories: 
    1. Workforce Digital Skills, such as those associated with the Microsoft Office suite of tools. 
    2. Data Skills, which range from spreadsheet to machine learning skills. 
    3. System Infrastructure Skills, related to managing cloud computing services or providing  IT support. 
    4. Software/Product Development Skills, related to the generation of new digital products (both web- and software–based).
  • Canadians across the economy require a suite of digital and non-digital skills. Despite growing attention on the importance of learning to code, demand is highest for the least digitally intensive skills, such as proficiency in Microsoft Excel. 
  • Data skills are important across a variety of jobs that range in digital intensity, reflecting the importance of data in Canada’s economy. They can also support transitions between jobs. Microsoft Excel and SQL (a database querying software), for example, are frequently requested alongside one another. For an individual proficient in Excel, learning SQL might open up opportunities to move into more digitally intensive jobs. 
  • The most digitally-intensive roles also place the highest emphasis on non-digital skills—notably, teamwork, communication, judgment, and problem-solving skills.
  • Creative jobs, from advertising to video game design, are particularly notable for requiring a combination of both design-oriented digital skills (for example, those required to work with tools such as Adobe Photoshop and CSS) and non-digital communications, marketing, and design skills.

“There are sets of digital skills that are going to be key to unlocking opportunity and mobility for virtually all Canadians,” said Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies.  “As technology transforms work globally, we are excited to partner with the Brookfield Institute to map the contours of those changes in Canada. Ultimately, this project is about identifying the skills that will not only keep workers relevant but which, ironically, also prove to make work more human.”  

This research is based on 7 million English-language online job postings collected by BGT over a period of six years, in Canada. Drawing on methodologies developed by BII+E and BGT,  the 13,000 skills found in this data were placed along a continuum based on their digital intensity—how frequently they show up in highly digital roles. Here, skills are defined as a catch-all for skills, abilities, knowledge, and other elements required for workers to be successful in a job. Clustering algorithms were then applied to both digital and non-digital skills to uncover which kinds of skills employers often request in conjunction with one another—or in other words—to illuminate patterns or trends in employer demand for digital and non-digital skills. 

I, Human builds on BII+E’s previous work on digital literacy, including Levelling Up: The quest for digital literacy that drew upon over 90 interviews with digital literacy experts across Canada, as well as our research on tech workers, which helped to define our digital skills taxonomy. This work also complements its Digitally Lit: Digital literacy and coding pilot, a program designed to help young people learn to code, improve their digital skills, and prepare for an increasingly digital economy.


The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) is an independent and nonpartisan policy institute, housed within Ryerson University, that is dedicated to building a prosperous Canada where everyone has the opportunity to thrive due to an inclusive resilient economy. BII+E generates far-sighted insights and stimulates new thinking to advance actionable innovation policy in Canada. For more information, visit brookfieldinstitute.ca.

Burning Glass Technologies delivers job market analytics that empower employers, workers, and educators to make data-driven decisions. The company’s artificial intelligence technology analyzes hundreds of millions of job postings and real-life career transitions to provide insight into labor market patterns. This real-time strategic intelligence offers crucial insights, such as which jobs are most in demand, the specific skills employers need, and the career directions that offer the highest potential for workers. Find out more at www.burning-glass.com

Ryerson University is Canada’s leader in innovative, career-oriented education. Urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, the university is home to more than 44,600 students, including 2,600 master’s and PhD students, 3,100 faculty and staff, and nearly 185,000 alumni worldwide. For more information, visit ryerson.ca.

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