Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: August 30, 2018—Winnipeg, MB

Hosted by Carole Piovesan
Areas of Focus: Future of Work

Highlights of Discussion

The future of work is a complex subject that can result in uneasiness around the impact of technology on jobs. In order to prepare to address the impacts and harness the opportunities of technological advancements the Government must work in partnership with the private sector, and academia, to ensure prudent and timely action on the future of work.  We must be mindful of the human element and ensure that support for business and technological development remains linked to, and premised on, increasing the well-being and security of Canadians.

Key topics addressed include: skills, accreditation, and life-long learning; digital access and skills; taxation; cultural impediments to innovation; Indigenous economic and skills development; and Government procurement.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Automation presents a difficult problem for balancing competitiveness and a people-first future of work, as many foreign jurisdictions are willing to automate ruthlessly without regard for how to protect workers in the transition.
Risk Aversion
It is often noted that Canadian firms are risk-averse and culturally conservative as far as business investment. However, this might be driven by a lack of population density: while Manitoba is bigger than Germany, it has 1/80 as many people, which necessarily means less access to capital, difficulty scaling, and a business culture that is focused on survival and retention of clients rather than scaling and risk-taking.
Disconnect Between Education and Industry
In leading models for embracing the future of work like Germany’s Industrie 4.0 model, there is an acceptance of a more overt streaming of students into manufacturing and technical training. The Canadian education currently does not take this approach. This has resulted in a disconnect between Canadian students exiting university in the labour market and industry requirements leading to many students needing to return to school for further training.
Canada’s corporate tax rate is no longer an advantage for attracting investment domestically or abroad since the United States lowered its tax rate.
Cultural Disconnects
Canadian business and consumers focus too little on design and quality and too much on affordability and quantity. Outside Canada and the United States, consumers generally do not want to buy mediocre products in bulk, which can lead to Canadian firms struggling in foreign markets.
Brain Drain
Canada’s focus on selling to American markets and Canadian firms generally exiting through acquisition by American multinationals means that the brains that founded and supported these valuable firms often follow to the United States. This snowballs and makes it hard for Canada to develop its own anchor firms, which exacerbates the problem.
Re-Skilling and Upskilling
Firms are increasingly flagging the need for the labour force to have an ethic of life-long learning and upskilling. However, older workers are coming from a paradigm where being a student is considered a reputational step back, and being encouraged to pursue further education is seen as insulting to their experience. While younger workers are more adaptable, they are often entering the workforce with considerable debt from rising post-secondary tuition and are trying to get their lives started (paying off debt, buying real estate), which makes further participation in education and skills programs prohibitive. This is compounded by an anecdotal reluctance of Canadian firms to pay for further training for young employees, especially if it means time off work.
Digital Access and Skills
Young Canadians need access to digital learning before moving in to post-secondary education. However, many young Canadians do not have access to broadband and high-speed Internet, especially Indigenous youth and people in rural and remote communities.
Indigenous communities are struggling to keep up in the digital economy, often due to lack of access to digital infrastructure and digital skills development on top of traditional barriers to economic inclusion.

Ideas / Outcomes

Tax Reform
To attract and retain high-end talent, Canada should consider lowering the corporate tax rate to regain the advantage Canada previously enjoyed over the United States in this regard. Finally, Canada should consider revising tax rules to encourage Canadian firms to pass down firms and grow in Canada.
‘Buy Canadian’ and Procurement
Innovators and entrepreneurs will go where customers are. If Canadian firms cannot sell their cutting-edge technological products in Canada, they will go where they can sell. Canada should attract innovative firms by ensuring that procurement is agile and focused on acting as a first-buyer for innovative Canadian technologies. Additionally, Canadians have a tendency to view our own products as inferior and to buy foreign products. A ‘Buy Canadian’ campaign would be in line with programs in place in our competitor nations and would encourage both Canadian firms to produce high-quality products for the domestic market and Canadian consumers to support homegrown products and innovation.
‘De-isolate’ Canada
Canadians have a tendency to go to school and settle into work relatively close to where they grew up, and have less willingness to move around for work than their American and worldwide colleagues. Canadians should be incented to pursue their work and education abroad, either internationally or somewhere else within Canada, to ensure Canadians have greater awareness of different ideas and way of doing business, in turn making Canadians more innovative.
Access to high-quality broadband is a pre-condition for developing the digital skills and competency needed to succeed in the digital economy. Government must play a leading role in ensuring as many Canadians have access to affordable, high-quality broadband as possible.
Canada’s Indigenous population has enormous potential as economic contributors and beneficiaries, especially in Manitoba. Indigenous communities are typically young and have a high birth rate, unlike most of the rest of the country. However, these communities are also typically underskilled and underutilized. If the Government can better support Indigenous economic development and skills development, Canada as a whole would benefit, not just Indigenous communities.
Skills and Work-Integrated Learning
Work-integrated learning (WIL) currently tends to focus on work experience at the end of education. Instead, WIL should be accessible throughout education to ensure that students are able to test their prospective career and ‘re-stream’, or calibrate, to end up where they are most excited and able to apply their talents. Recognizing the need for students entering the workforce to be adaptable to different jobs, WIL programs should focus on teaching transferable skills like problem-solving and instil a culture of life-long learning. Government must also play a role in incenting private-sector investment in skills development through education and advocacy, as well as subsidization.
Credentials and Accreditation
While there is an increased need for agility and transferable skills, firms still need to be sure they are hiring reputable and skilled labour. To accommodate this, the Government should coordinate micro-credentialing programs through polytechnics where workers do not have to go through a full degree program to be recognized for a broad skill but instead can quickly be accredited as skilled in a specific area of need for an employer. In the private sector, firms should try to identify ‘intrapreneurs’ within their firms and help them access these programs to develop their skill sets.
Skills and Talent Pipeline
Firms looking to invest in Canada want to know that Canada has the talent pipeline needed to support their investment. Canada’s natural birth rate means that it is unlikely Canadian-born citizens will satisfy this demand. As a result, the Government must ensure that immigration policy supports economic growth and that immigrants are able to fully participate in the Canadian economy. While the Global Skills Strategy is a good start, it is equally critical to ensure that Canadian immigrants are given the necessary language training to work in Canadian workplaces and are able to pursue certification, credentialization, and accreditation quickly and simply.
Federal-Provincial Collaboration
A lack of coordination between federal and provincial/territorial governments can lead to issues for firms through overlapping and counterproductive taxes, business supports that work at cross-purposes, and education gaps across provinces. Canadians would benefit from a more coordinated federal-provincial approach to innovation and support for skills and education.

Attendee List

  1. University of Winnipeg
  2. West Canitest R&D Inc. (WestCaRD)
  3. Research Manitoba
  4. Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg
  5. Government of Manitoba
  6. Economic Development Winnipeg
  7. Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI)
  8. Micropilot
  9. Horizon Three
  10. North Forge Technology Exchange
  11. Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba (ICTAM)
  12. Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC)
  13. New Media Manitoba
  14. Manitoba Technology Accelerator
  15. Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  16. Manitoba Insititute of Trades & Technology
  17. NetSet Communications
  18. Women's Enterprise Centre
  19. BioScience Association of Manitoba
  20. Bold Innovation Group