Turn and Face the Strange: Changes impacting the future of employment in Canada

A new report looking at the complex trends potentially transforming Canada’s labour market in the next 10–15 years
April 9, 2019
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Toronto, April 10, 2019 — While technological change will continue to impact the future of labour markets, there are broader trends at play related to demographic change, environmental sustainability, urbanization, inequality, political uncertainty and globalization. As part of a multi-stage project titled Employment in 2030, a new report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) sets out to illuminate the diverse and intersecting trends driving change in employment in Canada.

Although not a prediction tool or a deep analysis of any one trend, Turn and Face the Strange is designed to spark exploratory and imaginative thinking. Using strategic foresight research methods, it pushes leaders from all sectors to think beyond what they currently know about the future of work—to ask themselves “what if?”

What if Canada sees a rise in wildfires, floods and mudslides? What if cases of mental health issues associated with technology use continue to multiply? What if AI becomes capable of performing creative tasks? By exploring 31 broad trends such as these, this report imagines the possible implications for Canada and its labour market in the year 2030 and beyond.

“This project is about exploring possibilities. It looks at how the many forces at play in our economy might intersect to shape future skill demand,” says Sarah Doyle, Director of Policy + Research at the Brookfield Institute. “By employing both traditional and innovative research techniques—in this case strategic foresight or futures methodology—we aim to give new dimensions to the country’s ongoing efforts to prepare Canadians for the future of employment. Imagining possible futures can give us better perspective on the present and allow us to anticipate and plan more effectively for what’s to come.”

Key Report Findings
  • While technological change will continue to impact the future of labour markets, it is important to consider broader trends related to demographic change, environmental sustainability, urbanization, inequality, political uncertainty and globalization.
  • Disparate topics, such as brain enhancements, wildfires, and suburban growth, all have the potential to impact the future of employment in Canada. Even if these impacts are not always immediately obvious.
  • While ideas such as the decline of capitalism or rights for AI may seem eccentric or unlikely to occur at first glance, these weak signals still have the potential to shape the future of work, and should not be ignored.
  • To support future-focused planning and avoid blind spots, it is critical to understand the level of maturity of various trends, and how each might interact and evolve over time.
  • The future is uncertain. Imaginative and exploratory thinking can help leaders consider the broad range of potential challenges around the corner—and prepare for what is to come.

This report is the first of several that will be shared as part of Employment in 2030, along with open data, interactive infographics and blogs. Building off a research model used by global innovation foundation and project partner Nesta, this report will also be used to inform a series of related workshops taking place in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Canada. At these workshops, participating experts will forecast changes in demand for specific occupations in the future. This data will then be applied to a machine learning model to develop a forecast with granular, actionable information on demand for skills and occupations in 10–15 years that can be used by Canadian educators, policymakers, workers and firms alike.

Better data will help to target the country’s skills-development efforts, and support the development of a more inclusive, innovation-driven economy. Employment in 2030 is made possible thanks to over $1-million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiative Program and the Max Bell Foundation.

This new report builds on BII+E’s highly-cited study, The Talented Mr. Robot: The impact of automation on Canada’s workforce, as well its Digital Literacy Series. It will also feed into the work of the Future Skills Centre, a forward-thinking research centre with a focus on how best to prepare Canadians today for workforce opportunities of the future. Funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program, the Future Skills Centre is a partnership of Ryerson University, the Conference Board of Canada, and Blueprint, and consists of an investment of $225-million over four years and $75-million a year thereafter.


The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) is an independent and nonpartisan policy institute, proudly housed within Ryerson University. We are dedicated to building a prosperous Canada where everyone has the opportunity to thrive due to an inclusive and 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.

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.