Canada needs new data for a new economy

When the federal Liberals took power in 2015, they made evidence a key priority in policy-making. Yet, three years on, we still don’t have the data that will enable the development of a future-forward workforce in Canada. We have data that focuses largely on traditional occupations, but the changing nature of jobs, and the need for whole new skill sets, requires that we broaden our thinking.

Intelligent automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies are set to reshape the Canadian job market. It isn’t necessarily job loss we should be worried about, but job shift — and whether or not Canada is ready. We need the data to guide us.

Many regions have figured this out already, including the European Union and Australia, and it’s time for Canada to catch up. In the United States, the O*NET digital database breaks down occupations into the skills, knowledge, competencies and credentials required for a particular career path. The database goes so far as to assess industry outlook and growth potential, to give users an idea of where jobs might exist in the future.

Tomorrow’s jobs, the ones where farmers, framers and financial analysts will all be working with digital technology, will each require vastly different skill sets. Adding further complexity to our workforce development challenges are looming retirements and global trade relationships. Each of these pressures will require us to rethink our delivery of skills.

With an entire generation of baby boomers sitting on the edge of retirement, it’s critical to know what skills will be most important to retain so that knowledge-transfer and mentorship programs can be most appropriately and efficiently designed.

For Canada to pivot, and shift our thinking on data for workforce development, one idea worth exploring is to poll employers to build data on the skills that are most in demand. The time to do so is ripe for a number of reasons.

The Ministry of Innovation has recently convened industry leaders and executives across six of Canada’s highest growth sectors, in what they are calling the Economic Strategy Tables with the goal of identifying sectoral growth opportunities. The ministry is also putting up approximately one billion dollars to fund the transformation of five regional innovation ecosystems.

With the leaders of our high-growth sectors and innovation superclusters all sitting at the same table, we would be remiss to pass on the opportunity to begin building more robust data on our future skills needs.

Not only do we have the players lined up, but there’s never been a better opportunity to execute this work. Statistics Canada is flush with new funding, the Labour Market Information Council is ramping up to full power and the Future Skills Centre will be launched in late 2018. Each institution would be more than capable of collecting such data.

So far, this government has shown a strong commitment to data, but for Canada to optimize our workforce development potential and global competitiveness, an essential step forward needs to be better data related to skills.

About the Author

Daniel Komesch

At the time of publication, Daniel Komesch was the Director of Policy at Polytechnics Canada.