In our first Skills Next report, we look at top research and skills training programs that are succeeding internationally, and highlight for Canadian policymakers key features driving success. Authors Sunil Johal and Michael Urban distill key lessons for Canada to ensure workers are equipped with the skills they need to thrive in tomorrow’s economy, whatever shape it takes.

Key takeaways

  • Studies on the future of work tend to focus on the jobs at risk of automation, with projections varying widely from 6% to 59%. To get clearer answers, we may need to take new approaches to research.
  • Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Singapore, the UK and the US are all taking innovative steps towards enhancing, and in some cases rethinking, skills training for the future of work.

Executive Summary

The future of skills has become a subject of global debate. So far, most of the attention from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Economic Forum (WEF), major management consulting firms, think tanks and banks has fallen onto reports warning about occupations most at risk of automation, the number of jobs that will be lost, and the skills and occupations likely to be immune from obsolescence.

But what if that focus is misplaced?

The inherent unpredictability of technological progress means that within the growing literature, one report projects 59% of jobs to be at high risk from automation, while another predicts 6%. And the timeframes within which these impacts are predicted to occur are similarly broad, ranging from 10 to 50 years. Taking a different approach, this paper looks at initiatives in nine countries, highlights key projections from eight of the most important reports to date on the skills of the future, and distills the effects of drivers of skills change into five key impacts that will influence the direction and form of the future of skills, and the future of work, namely:

  1. A decline in routine work;
  2. An unbundling of tasks;
  3. A greater need for adaptability and resilience on the part of workers;
  4. A premium on workers’ ability to work with technology; and
  5. An increased emphasis on hard-to-automate skills.

In so doing, this paper analyzes the relationship between projections and examines how the methods used to create these projections have evolved and built upon each other.

This elevated perspective is followed by a more in-depth discussion of one interesting initiative that is already underway in one of the selected countries. The goal is to understand what drives success in skills training initiatives along seven key dimensions of analysis, including labour market information, active labour market programs, special initiatives and legal reforms. Canada, and countries around the world, are positioning themselves to adapt to the future of work. This set of global comparisons aims to inform Canada’s approach to the future of work and skills, which is outlined in the final section of this report. With this information, the Future Skills Centre and policymakers can better grasp opportunities to help Canadians equip themselves with the skills they will need to thrive in the future of work.

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