How Shifting Powers in Canada and Abroad Could Shape Our Workforce in 2030

How Shifting Powers in Canada and Abroad Could Shape Our Workforce in 2030

The pandemic has given rise to new international and domestic tensions, while impacting broader dynamics such as globalization, international trade policy, and a rise in youth activism.
Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
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For millennia, our world has seen various political powers rise and fall as global empires fight for control. From China, to Russia, to the United States, to big business and market consolidation, global power struggles continue to drive economic policy and political decisions. While the United States has been the dominant superpower in recent years, this power has been observed as moving to China. COVID-19 has created new international and domestic tensions, while impacting broader dynamics such as globalization and international trade policy. Meanwhile, a rise in youth protests internationally suggest a demographic power shift may also be in the works.

In our new report, Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring possible futures of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world, produced in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, we’ve identified 34 meso-trends that could impact the future work in Canada. This report uses futures research and expert workshops to explore a broad range of trends—many of which have been accelerated, disrupted, or created by COVID-19—that have the potential to impact Canada’s labour market over the coming decade. This report is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, a prediction of the future, or a deep analysis of any one trend. It’s meant to explore and consider the potential for different trends to interact in ways that are not always obvious, as well as how these trends may impact populations and demographic groups differently. Here, we explore meso-trends related to shifting powers that could shape Canada’s labour market in the decade ahead.

1. Bigger Business, Richer Execs

Small businesses (and their owners) have taken the biggest hit during the pandemic, with one in seven at risk of closing, and operations at less than 30% of normal sales. In comparison, many large firms (in particular big box stores) and their executives have thrived—often at the expense of smaller establishments. This trend may signal further market consolidation and wealth concentration over the course of the coming decade. As small businesses employ 70% of Canada’s total private labour force, this shift could radically alter Canada’s labour market landscape.

However… executives like Air Canada’s CEO have had compensation cuts due to the pandemic.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There could be increased homogenization and standardization of products, services, and built environments.
  • There may be higher levels of environmental degradation (and less Canadian supply chains) due to larger, more international supply chains from multinational corporations.
  • Companies like Shopify could grow even larger, putting Canada on the innovation map globally.

Potential labour market implications:

  • An increase in market consolidation might lead to a weakening of worker bargaining power, which could impact minimum employment standards including compensation, benefits, and sick leave, as well as lead to less diversity in hiring practices.
  • There may be a bifurcation of wages into high-paid and low-paid work.
  • Given the more specialized roles that tend to exist in highly organized corporate structures, there could be more demand for specialized labour.
  • A decline in small businesses may lead to a reduction in entrepreneurship and reduced startup ecosystem and creativity levels.

Signal Maturity: Mature

2. World War

Geopolitical uncertainty and conflict are accelerating and taking new forms, including cyber warfare, trade wars, and AI-based military interventions. 71% of Chief Information Security Officers believe cyber warfare is a threat to their organization, and over the last year at least 67 US government bodies have suffered ransomware attacks. In addition, military AI is being deployed and is demonstrating that an algorithm can outperform humans. The concerns about global conflict have reached the mainstream, where early in 2020 TikTok was flush with WW3 memes. Even though Canada may not be a dominant actor in the potential conflict, because of globalization and the nature of cyber attacks the country is still potentially at risk. Over time, this may result in a growth in the cybersecurity industry in Canada, including increased demand for privacy, security, and dark web skills. 

However… Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the European Union’s two top political leaders met in advance of the US election to push for a more peaceful and stable global context.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be an emergence of gated “offline” communities to enable safety and protection.
  • The best tech talent and hackers in Canada might be drafted into national cyber defence.
  • New trade agreements and new global alliances may emerge (with the potential collapse of USMCA and WTO).
  • Investment in domestic supply chains may occur to produce more goods and services in Canada.

Potential labour market implications:

  • If Canada is less impacted by global conflict, Canada might attract highly skilled talent and there may be increased immigration to the country. 
  • There may be growth in defence, security, cybersecurity, and individual cybersecurity investments, or cybersecurity guards may emerge to protect digital identities and assets.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

3. America vs. America

Since confederation, American Democrats and Republicans have often found themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum on a range of social, economic, and political issues. This differing of perspectives once led the country to be at war with itself. Given that leading up to the 2020 election Trump had refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power,  thousands of Americans were engaged in months-long protest over the police murder of George Floyd, and Americans had purchased a record number of guns, many companies were taking precautions for post-election civil unrest. For example, Walmart removed gun and ammunition from store shelves. In recent years, polarization has become a defining characteristic of the United States, illustrated by high election voter turnout in 2020 still resulting in a close race. While President Trump was an especially polarizing leader, it is unclear whether the President-elect Biden will ease the growing discontent across America.

However… while social media platforms have recently played a significant role in disseminating polarizing information, Twitter has recently introduced new features to label or remove misinformation.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be ongoing and increased social tensions and unrest in the United States.
  • The rise of the “Canadian dream” could emerge as immigrants see more potential in Canada than the United States.
  • Ongoing border closures between Canada and the United States could occur.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There could be increased conflict between Canada and the United States, including over pipelines and natural resources and trade, and potentially more tariffs.
  • Persistent political volatility in the United States could lead to outsourcing of key economic segments to Canada and a “brain gain” for Canada, as top innovators and entrepreneurs opt to live in Canada given greater political stability in comparison to the United States.

Signal Maturity: Emerging 

4. Deglobalization

While technology and transportation have made international transfers of goods, services, investments, knowledge, and people pervasive, recent evidence suggests a shift away from unfettered globalization, particularly in trade. The pandemic has exposed the over-reliance on fragile global networks and forced regions to strengthen local supply chains, particularly in essential goods like food and medicine, and buy local campaigns have gained momentum across Canada. Along with a rise in global protectionism, the pandemic has significantly reduced international travel, which may have longer-term impacts. 

However… some economists argue that Coronavirus-induced “reshoring” is not happening, while others peg deglobalization as “fake news.”

In 2030 this could mean:

  • We might increasingly shift to eating seasonally and buying local, with less imported food in grocery stores.
  • There could be boycotts on international goods. 
  • There might be more investment in innovative approaches for Canada to localize its supply chains.
  • The cost of doing business could go up if the traditional efficiencies of globalization are eroded.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be new demand for manufacturing jobs in Canada (especially in non-urban areas) that were previously offshored.
  • There could be a shift towards greater economic reliance on secondary and tertiary industries and less export of raw materials.
  • The local tourism industries in Canada might see a boom.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

5. Gen Z Takeover

Generation Z—people born between 1996 and 2010—is entering the workforce, and by 2030 will account for 30% of the global labour market. In Canada, Gen Z currently makes up about 25% of Canada’s population, and accounts for $50 billion in buying power. Gen Zers are digitally native and tech savvy, diverse, politically engaged, and socially conscious. The increasing influence of today’s youth, particularly through activism (both via public protests and social media), might push companies to adopt more explicitly social mandates, while pushing governments to reform the status quo.

However… many criticize the performative nature of Gen Z activism, particularly on social media, while others question whether this generation is unique in its activism and idealism.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be more communal living in alternative family arrangements such as co-parenting or co-living models.
  • Recruitment strategies may increasingly go beyond just compensation to include aspects like ethical policies and wellness benefits.
  • There may be a rethinking of some of our most deep-rooted structures and institutions, such as democracy, capitalism, policing, full-time work, land ownership, and post-secondary education.
  • Older, less digitally savvy workers may be pressured to retrain or find new roles.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be consumer demand for all companies to become socially responsible enterprises that fully consider value to communities, workers, environment, and supply chain alongside shareholders
  • The supply of contract or gig workers may increase if benefit structures and protections for non-traditional labour become more robust.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

6. Canada Breakup

Canada has a long history of provincial and regional independence initiatives. While Quebec has traditionally been at the forefront of separatist politics, and Indigenous communities have long been vying for sovereignty, the Alberta-based Wexit movement has recently been gaining momentum since the 2019 federal election. The provincial and territorial nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer to regionalization, with inter-regional travel restrictions, reduced cross-Canada transportation, regional bubbles, and more broadly a questioning of the federalist system as provinces and territories respond inconsistently and disjointly. If these regionalist sentiments continue to rise, there could be significant impacts on Canada’s future workforce, especially regarding the movement and distribution of labour across the country.

However… research from the University of Alberta suggests support for Wexit may be waning.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • People in Canada could self-identify more strongly with their respective provinces, territories, and regions than with the country as a whole.
  • Provincial governments could become relatively more powerful when compared to the Federal government.
  • Economic disparities between regions in Canada may become more severe.
  • Certain regions of Canada could become fully independent states.

Potential labour market implications:

  • Movement of labour between provinces could be significantly reduced.
  • The inter-regional transportation and tourism industry (airline and train in particular) could see reduced demand, while intra-regional tourism may experience growth.
  • There might be a restructuring of supply chains within Canada.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

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For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

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