Hosted by Arvind Gupta
Area of Focus: Future of Work
Highlights of Discussion
Canada’s North is facing a digital infrastructure deficit, a major barrier to improving the adoption of digital technologies; digital skills and economic development in the region. The longer the North waits for access to digital infrastructure and technologies, the wider the gap grows for digital illiteracy and missed business opportunities. Current solutions such as satellites are insufficient, as there are no economies of scale, very costly, and experience outages regularly. Upgrading digital technologies in remote communities can be very costly and many private companies see no value in making these investments. Investment decisions must consider the broader economic and social impact including helping smaller communities connect to services and creating jobs in digital industries.
In addition, the nature of jobs is changing and the labour market is facing increased disruption. The north will face challenges in re-skilling workers due to automation, especially in sectors such as mining. With the future of jobs moving towards digital industries, we must encourage women, indigenous Canadians and workers in at-risk industries to participate more in the digital space and STEM areas. We must also put in place programs to reskill older and under-skilled Canadians. Many skills issues are underpinned by the infrastructure deficit and the need for greater access to affordable digital services and resources.
We need to ensure our education system is responsive and provides young Canadians with digital skills and exposure to STEM areas. We must also ensure these benefits are inclusive and access to STEM and digital literacy programs are non-discriminatory. Access to STEM and digital programs across the Northern Territories is limited. First Nations in all northern territories need support to become more familiar with digital technologies so they can increase digital literacy and skills within the community.
Many Northern communities are also unaware of potential benefits and impacts of disruptive digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and FinTech. There is a need for greater exposure to digital technologies and expertise around how they can be leveraged to achieve greater economic and social prosperity. It is important for northern territories to forge partnerships with industry across Canada to promote technology adoption.
Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges
- Access to Digital Infrastructure
- Federal digital infrastructure investments in remote communities have been an important step in improving access up North, however, connectivity in remote areas outside of Whitehorse is still lacking. Need to ensure benefits of digital economy are accessible for all, and not just those in big cities. Access to high speed internet for indigenous, rural and remote Northern communities is crucial as it allows for greater diversity and inclusion in Canada’s digital economy.
- Digital Adoption
- We must identify how we can bring everyone along as technology changes. To build new kinds of businesses and new industries, we need local champions to help disseminate advancements in technology. Educating youth is extremely important, allowing them to become familiarized with technology and tools.
- Digital Skills
- Digital skills, particularly around cloud computing, AI, and machine learning, are crucial for future of work and our success as a country. Young Canadians need access to digital learning before moving in to post-secondary education. In particular, better access is needed for underrepresented groups in Northern communities, including women and indigenous Canadians in STEM.
- Funding Ecosystem
- In northern Canada, start-ups are having a hard time accessing risk capital due to the lack of angel investors in that region. Potential investors are all found in Canada’s major cities, and attracting them up north can be difficult as they generally don’t think about the opportunities that can be found in the territories.
- CRTC Funding
- There is concern that new CRTC funding conditions will require very short latency periods that would make much of the North ineligible for funding.
- A small government grant (eg. $2000) could be created to incentivize students across Canada to visit northern territories on a short term basis to explore opportunities around digital industry growth, technology adoption and knowledge sharing. This could be linked to capstone projects or be part of a work-integrated learning program.
- Access to Digital Infrastructure
- Increased funding is needed for building out fiber internet lines and cellular coverage across the territories, and to remote communities. More specifically, prioritizing cellular coverage along major highways up north and ensuring that remote communities have high speed internet access that’s affordable and reliable.
- Big Data
- Northern Canada does not have access to large enough sets of data to do work in areas such as AI. In order to ensure that the right data for deep learning and AI applications in market verticals, a program should be introduced to create a large open data platform.
- Northern Tech Experts
- Northern communities struggle to stay on top of new technological developments and opportunities due to the lack of expertise. Industry and academia have expressed a desire to bring digital experts and leaders up north to showcase the opportunities in digital industries. These could be held as seminars or workshops that will expose the northern population to trends on what’s currently happening, for example, in AI or quantum computing. Exposure will also depend on having digital leaders in First Nation communities.
- Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce
- Yukon Chamber of Commerce
- Cold Climate Innovation, Yukon College
- Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining, Yukon College
- Yukon Department of Economic Development
- Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce
- Vector Research
- Yukon College
- Yukon Department of Education
- Dakwakada Capital Investments