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

Telling Canadians they need digital skills is not enough; we must be specific. This report does just that by exploring the demand for digital and soft skills in the Canadian labour market.
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Creig Lamb
Alumni, Senior Policy Analyst
Viet Vu
Manager, Economic Research
Rob Willoughby
Data Analyst

About this Report

The rate at which new technologies emerge and shape the employment landscape appears to be accelerating. New job titles such as AI Ethicist, Machine Learning Consultant, and Social Media Ninja pop up seemingly every day. Many of these jobs straddle skills from different domains, which can make it difficult for workers to keep up with employer demands in the labour market.

According to much of the current research from academia, government, and the private sector, this changing landscape of skills and work is at least in part driven by technological and societal factors, such as automation and population aging. Collectively, these studies suggest that workers are often expected to possess a suite of skills from many domains simultaneously, including digital literacy, interpersonal relations, and communications, as well as judgment, problem-solving, and creativity.

However, these skill sets are often described in general terms and little is known about the current—let alone the future—landscape of employer demand for specific skills or combinations of skills. This lack of visibility can inhibit policymakers and educators from effectively responding to changing skills demands or workers from developing the skills that will help them succeed in the job market. 

Using data scraped from job postings collected by Burning Glass Technologies from January 2012 to December 2018, this report uncovers the specific digital (skills that involve the use of and/or production of digital technologies) and non-digital (including soft) skills that employers in Canada are seeking. Our aim is 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.

Read this report to help you:
  • Understand and categorize a broad spectrum of digital skills 
  • Identify which digital skills are most in demand across Canada
  • Identify trends related to which combinations of digital and non-digital skills employers are looking for 
  • Design skill development policies and programs that reflect trends in employer demand 

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Key findings from the report:

  • 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.

Digital Skills Taxonomy

This report is accompanied by our new, demand-driven taxonomy for understanding the full spectrum of digital skills. Download your copy now to examine the four distinct categories of digital skills that employers are looking for.


In this report, we place all 13,000 skills found in Burning Glass data along a continuum based on their digital intensity—how frequently they show up in highly digital roles. For this research, we use skills as a catch-all for skills, abilities, knowledge, and other elements required for workers to be successful in a job. We then apply clustering algorithms to skills we define as digital and non-digital 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. 

This report relied on roughly seven million English-language online job postings collected by Burning Glass Technologies over a period of six years, in Canada. This data can help to close many of the gaps left by traditional sources of labour market information (LMI), in particular when it comes to timely data on skills demand. For this report, we were not able to analyze French-language job postings due to the Burning Glass platform — at this time — being optimized only for processing job postings in English; however, in spite of this gap, a series of representativeness checks suggest that Burning Glass data provides a fairly representative snapshot of the Canadian labour market.

For more information on the methodology please see the detailed appendix in the report, which is also available as a separate download.

Partners and Sponsors

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).

Deep Dive

2 Results


Dec 17, 2019

Using job postings data, we’ve developed a demand-driven taxonomy of digital skills to uncover the specific combinations of digital and soft skills employers are looking for
Skills demand in a digital economy

Dec 17, 2019

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