Everyone expects automation and other tech advances to eliminate some jobs and create others. But in a new report, Canadian futurists say there’s a far wider range of trends that could influence the types of skills that are likely to be in demand — or not — in the future.
Focusing too closely on the impact of technological change alone could create blind spots that leave Canadians unprepared to handle changes to the labour market, says the report, released Wednesday and entitled Turn and Face the Strange: Changes Impacting the Future of Employment in Canada.
The report was written by researchers at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a non-partisan policy institute housed at Toronto’s Ryerson University. It was set up to help Canadian policy-makers navigate the growth of Canada’s innovation economy, said Sarah Doyle, the institute’s director of policy and research.
In the past, forecasters have spent a lot of time trying to quantify how tech changes will affect the skills employers look for, said Doyle. “What this report is doing is looking at a far more complicated picture about how a wide range of trends maybe interacting in different ways to influence the types of skills that are likely to be in demand.”
Over three months, the authors conducted a comprehensive “horizon scan,” a method used in the field of strategic foresight to identify what’s known as “signals of change” — indicators that could point to risks and opportunities down the road.
The results are both “an optimistic and a pessimistic narrative,” said Doyle, because as certain skills decline in importance, others are growing in importance.
“The scale of change is such that a lot of people are concerned about remaining relevant in this labour market and a lot of companies are concerned about sourcing the talent they need to compete and grow,” she said.
The report identifies 31 trends that could impact hiring by 2030. But Jessica Thornton, senior projects designer for the Brookfield Institute and the report’s lead researcher, said it is not meant to predict the future.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but what we are trying to do is push readers to consider what would happen if these things did come to fruition, so people can become future-proof,” she said.
Here CBC News is highlighting seven of those trends, which may change both future job prospects and the nature of work for Canadians.
1. Mandatory creativity
Creativity is no longer relegated to the worlds of art and design. In fact, it’s a skill that business schools are embracing in order to turn out workers who can innovate and solve problems on the fly.
The Brookfield report says creativity could soon be “the most in-demand skill sought by employers across all industries.”
Where once creativity was regarded as an innate trait that people were either born with or not, it’s now regarded as an attribute that can be taught. Case in point: the advent of things like creativity gyms.
2. Wildfires, floods and mudslides
Increased natural disasters are already having an impact on the economy, and with them come new demand for different forms of insurance and disaster response, said Doyle. As a result, there will likely be demand for people in disaster response-related fields.
“In B.C., we’ve seen a shortage of people with the capacity to fight fires,” said Thornton.
Additionally, labour markets in some regions may feel the impact if Canadians decide to migrate to regions less affected by flooding and wildfires. In contrast, the report says there could be new opportunities for companies who provide innovative products and services for flood and wildfire monitoring and disaster recovery.
3. Digital detox
The Brookfield report touches on several counter-trends — those that arise to address challenges raised by other trends. One of those is the emerging field of digital detox, said Thornton, the proliferation of products and services that help people manage the downside of our hyperconnected world.
A proliferation of apps, such as RescueTime and ClearLock, already help individuals manage digital distractions, the report said. And Canadians can visit cafés that are intentionally Wi-Fi free or participate in digital detox retreats where smartphones are left at the front desk.
Tech detox may emerge as a full-blown health and wellness sector, as well as tourism niche offering opportunities for innovators, experts and service providers. Likewise, demand for internet services and expensive cellphones could decline (some say the flip phone is already on the way back), reducing the need for workers in those fields.
4. 3D printing
While 3D printing is still in its infancy, the report’s authors note that it has the potential to disrupt supply chains and make manufacturing less reliant on human labour.
On the flip side, 3D printing could also be poised to create opportunity in other fields and do some good at the same time. The report notes, for example, that a startup called ICON has developed a method for printing a 650-square-foot house out of cement in 12 to 24 hours, with the goal of creating affordable housing for those without shelter.
Companies on the forefront of 3D printing will need staff, as will those that provide printers, plans and filaments — the materials used in 3D printing.
The technology could also be set to transform the health-care industry, as scientists work to develop new methods to 3D print living tissue, potentially creating a new industry around providing organs and tissues for transplant.
5. Work-life integration
As technology allows for the boundaries between work and the rest of life to blur, work may no longer be defined by specific hours and days, and the two could instead become deeply intertwined, the report says.
In a knowledge economy, that could be a boon for productivity, as employees in different parts of the world work the hours that suit their lives. On the other hand, the fuzzy line between work and the rest of life could only serve to exacerbate burnout caused by constant connectivity.
With more employees working from home or on non-traditional schedules, there could come growth in demand for certain products and services, including productivity apps, flexible child care and on-demand home delivery.
6. Climate refugees
Climate change could shift the makeup of Canada’s refugee population, said Thornton, from those fleeing conflict zones to those displaced from areas made uninhabitable by climate change.
Canada may see an influx of refugees from places made inhabitable by climate change, the report says, which could bring a rush of workers in need of employment. But that shift could also grow Canada’s green economy, as demand spikes for talent with the knowledge and experience to manage climate change events, as well as for those who can offer solutions.
7. Lifelong learning
On a cheerier note, there could be more opportunity to learn new things. A range of factors — from the pace of technological change, to working well past the traditional retirement age — mean learning will take place throughout our careers, said Thornton.
“We’re working longer and engaging in more and different careers over time,” she said. As a result, companies may need to spend more on training and college and university campuses will see a wider age range among students.
Opportunities could continue to increase in the already-burgeoning field of on-demand learning platforms.
To learn more about the future of work, including the other 24 trends identified by the Brookfield Institute, read the full report here.
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