Our forthcoming Forecast of Canadian Occupation Growth projects how employment may change for Canadian occupations by 2030, the skills and abilities that may prove foundational to remaining resilient, and the percentage of workers currently in occupations projected to significantly grow or decline over the next decade.
Our research on automation has found that 42% of the Canadian workforce is at high risk of at least some parts of their jobs being automated in the next 5 to 15 years, particularly for occupations that do not require college or university education, such as retail, admin assistants, food counter attendants, and truck drivers. We know that technological disruption will impact workers across industries and that people will need to retrain into new fields as well as learn skills to work alongside and with automated and digital systems.
Our research on digital skills has found that, according to national job postings, the most in-demand digital skills across the Canadian economy are not highly technical programming languages, but everyday digital skills, in particular those associated with using the Microsoft Office Suite. As a baseline, we know that everyone needs a foundational level of digital literacy for social, civic, and economic participation, including comfort interacting with technology, finding information online, and communicating with others.
However, in our collective anxiety around economic growth and predicting the skills and occupations of the future, researchers (and the policymakers, journalists, program managers, business consultants, and everyone else who contributes to these public discourse and narratives) risk reducing skills to abstract data-points, as inputs into the economy. A skills lens on the future of work does not tell us whether those jobs pay enough to live on in the communities where the demand is or whether working conditions are decent and employer-provided benefits are available in an emergency. It does not tell us if there is sexism, racism, or homophobia in the industry or other kinds of discrimination that might impede entry or career progression. It does not tell us if those jobs are helping build a better (more equitable, more sustainable, more liveable) future, or if they are just generating profit for corporations and the wealthiest families in Canada. It does not tell us what skills we will need outside of work and the economy, as parents, children, partners, community members, and citizens. Nor does it create space to think critically about and imagine alternatives to the current socio-economic function of work; its role in our lives and in our communities; and the kinds of invisible, undervalued, and unvalued work that operate outside of measurable market demand and that are increasingly vital in a crisis.
In focusing on predicting the occupations and skills of the future, we tend to frame the future of work as something market-driven and exogenous to us that requires preparation for, rather than something that is within our power to collectively create, to imagine for ourselves, and to make choices about what we want and the skills we will need to build it. We forget that these potential future trends we talk about in abstract (e.g., employment and income precarity, technological displacement, and workplace safety) are the very real, very present day reality for many people already, for whom the future will only normalize, intensify, or further disrupt their experience.
New research from the New York Times using the O*Net occupational database crossed variables for risk of exposure to disease and infection with variables for those whose work require proximity to others, identifying key occupations at risk of COVID-19 and other diseases, including health care workers, personal care and home health aides, and first responders; teachers and educators; and service workers including hairdressers, cashiers, food service, janitors, maintenance workers, couriers, etc. In the model, garbage collectors had similar risk levels as doctors; pipelayers were on par with massage therapists and teachers aids. Many at-risk workers are below national median income in the U.S. and without access to paid sick or caregiving days, making them even more vulnerable.