Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: August 29, 2018—Ottawa, ON

Hosted by Janie Béïque
Areas of Focus: Future of Work

Highlights of Discussion

The digital space is moving quickly and we cannot afford to lag behind. Businesses and professions that did not previously exist are coming quickly. Growing to compete globally will be a necessity in this new economy. Addressing the Future of Work is complex and cannot be done overnight. We must recognize that certain sectors are at different levels of adoption and that each faces different challenges. An approach needs to be multi-faceted. Putting in place quality programs which are scalable and adaptable requires a longer term set of policies.

This issue will also require a partnership approach. Government needs to be agile, putting in place structures that are nimble and adaptive. Industry must be given the capacity to solve their own unique issues, and build responses that address challenges at all levels and career trajectories (reskilling, upskilling, etc.).

Younger Canadians will grow up in an increasingly digitally-driven world, however, we must still ensure that kids are taught versatility as the rapid pace of digital technology means those who succeed are those best able to adapt. We must also ensure that post-secondary institutions are responsive and facilitate partnerships between business and academia to help fill skills gaps. Finally, we must address those already in the workforce who require basic digital literacy skills and reskilling in an era of disruption.  

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Displaced jobs might be more of a reality than complete jobs loss. Embracing new technologies can free up efforts for other purposes. However, to do so successfully you must be prepared to reskill those who are displaced and combat fear of job loss. Training should also focus on uniquely human skills that can’t be replaced through automation.
Holistic Skills
Businesses have identified top missing skills including teamwork, communication, problem solving, analytical capacity and resilience. Technical/STEM skills are still important but need to work in tandem with soft skills. Training should include enabling competencies which allow people to adapt to drivers of change such as technology. People should be enabled to continually build this skill throughout their careers.
Digital Literacy
A skills polarization is happening in Canada. In the digital economy, even low skill jobs require a certain level of digital literacy. This is an issue for those with low digital literacy, especially vulnerable populations such as Indigenous populations on reserve.
Non-Traditional Sectors
Technologically savvy individuals don’t necessarily think to integrate their skills in to non-traditional sectors (ie: mining, natural resources, banking, etc). Need to promote awareness of these career paths.
Capacity Building
Need help building digital skills for businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly for older entrepreneurs and those in rural and remote locations that struggle with connectivity. Many struggle with digital adoption that will help grow their business (ie: building a website, selling online, utilizing cloud storage, etc.).
An aging population is resulting in an increase in people with disabilities. Accessibility issues can be costly and many adaptive technology programs have not kept pace with evolving technological needs. Accessibility can also bar people with disabilities from participating in educational and/or training programs. Digital tools and resources must incorporate accessibility needs at the onset.
Need greater diversity in STEM education and workplace since women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, etc., think differently about technology and will bring a new perspective. In the workplace, while there is movement on reaching targets for inclusion, a cultural shift is needed. Must ensure environment is welcoming to retain workers.
We can incentivize training, reskilling and upskilling but change management is an important component that is often overlooked. Industry must start preparing now for the impact, however, people are often resistant to change. Need to approach with human nature lens to show value.
Skilled Talent
We must look at how we can bring in skilled talent and keep it in Canada, but also build our own capacity. In order to train future policy leaders, we should incorporate ideas of innovation, digital technology, and a global perspective from a young age. We must also recognize that some companies are moving away from degree based hiring and focus on skills instead. Some tech skills do not require formal training.
The Gig Economy
Many people now work in non-traditional jobs. The government has a role in determining the rights and obligations to protect workers in these new industries. We must also consider the social impacts of this changing landscape and how it changes the way our economy functions.
Focus on Strengths
Canada is a smaller economy and must therefore focus on areas where we are already competitive (eg. natural resources). To maintain sustainable growth we should focus on how key sectors can best integrate technology.
Regulatory Landscape
Government can help businesses benefit from technological advances by helping to clear the way. By responding quickly with a flexible regulatory regime and then getting out of the way, Government can help create conditions for Canadians to succeed (eg. Autonomous vehicles).

Ideas / Outcomes

Continuous Learning Bond
To help build a culture of constant learning, Canada could look at implementing something similar to Singapore’s SkillsFuture Credit. Taking a partnership approach, government and industry could feed in to a fund which adults can draw from for approved skills related training expenses.
Unbundle Programs
Post-secondary institutions could rethink how they distribute credits. In order to provide more flexibility and shorten time to achieve skills, institutions could break down components of programs to allow for more tailored skill attainment.
Embedded Learning
Work to broker arrangements with post-secondary institutions and businesses to embed classes within the organization. Students could attend class on location, get experience through work-integrated learning, and have guaranteed employment with the company when they graduate. Businesses benefit from highly skilled individuals tailored to their needs.
Increased Collaborative Spaces
In order to push supply and demand side of the labour market together and help with commercialization, more productivity and innovation centres , which bring together industry clients, researchers and experts come together to solve problems, should be created. Allowing students to work in these spaces and gain experience on real world industry issues will help increase responsiveness by connecting to local economy.
Leverage Existing Funds
The Government could look to leverage the funding commitments already made (ie: Superclusters, Strategic Innovation Fund, etc.) in order to ensure recipients are looking at certain skills training measures (ie: retraining programs, integrating diverse workers, etc.).
Building Partnerships
On skills, coordination between Federal and provincial/territorial governments, as well as partnerships with industry and academia, are critical. Government could play a role in building platforms to facilitate and promote these collaborations.
Digital Boot Camps
Boot camps, where individuals gain access to digital skills, tools and training in a condensed format, can help bring localized training to entrepreneurs and community members.
Jobs Data
Canada has great penetration on the employment site LinkedIn which means Canada has access to broad data on Canadian skills. The site also offers information on job postings. This data could be tapped by post-secondary institutions or other organizations to examine skill gaps and develop programming to up-skill.
Work Integrated Learning
The Government can continue to signal to industry that work integrated learning is a priority and continue to fund broadly. Enhancements to the program could be considered including: broadening to disciplines beyond STEM; integrating some component to incent holistic skills approach (ie: focus on multi-disciplinary training); opening to older students which might allow this to be a mechanism for mid-career reskilling.
Connecting Entrepreneurs with Opportunities
It can be difficult to capture the voice of small businesses in the tech space. There is also a disconnect between entrepreneurs and available programs and funding.  Startup communities can help act as a focal point, bringing together community supports. These networks are typically local but could be coordinated at a national level to compete globally.
Online Training
Online coursework is becoming readily available through universities, colleges and online resources. These online learning opportunities could be made accessible for those requiring reskilling.

Attendee List

  1. Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  2. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC)
  3. Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA)
  4. Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada)
  5. The Trenchant Group
  6. Engineers Canada
  7. Start-up Canada
  8. 3M Canada
  9. Microsoft Canada
  10. Polytechnics Canada
  11. Universities Canada
  12. Canadian Electricity Association
  13. Public Policy Forum (PPF)
  14. Business Council of Canada
  15. Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)
  16. Aerospace Industries Association