A major tenet of the federal government’s approach to determining future skills was revealed at Ryerson University in Toronto on Feb. 14.
A commitment of $225 million over four years — and $75 million each year following — was made to establish a Future Skills Centre at the school, according to a joint announcement by Employment Minister Patty Hajdu and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
The centre will work to test approaches throughout the country to ensure young people are acquiring appropriate skills for the future, said Hajdu.
A hot economy and record-low unemployment rates have brought new challenges for employers across Canada, she said.
“It’s even harder for employers to find the kinds of skill sets that they’re looking for. We’ve got a shortage of people and we’ve got a mismatch of skills… (Employers) are getting young people to come to their workplaces, or attracting them, and then they’re finding out that young person isn’t equipped with the (right) set of skills.”
But employers are doing “incredible work” to try and close the skills gap, said Hajdu, lauding those companies that are investing in talent.
“We love those stories,” she said. “I’m certain the Future Skills Centre will be able to tap into employers who are doing those kinds of things and see how they actually integrate them more closely with academic institutions that are providing skills training.”
A Future Skills Council made up of 15 members will provide Hajdu with advice on emerging skills and workforce trends.
Ryerson will partner with the Conference Board of Canada and Blueprint ADE, a non-profit research group in Toronto, to host the Future Skills Centre, which will operate independently of the federal government.
Charting the future
The centre’s mandate is to develop, test and measure new approaches to skills assessment and development in an effort to help Canadians make informed training decisions, according to the government.
While the economy may be humming along at present, conversation needs to turn to the future if Canada is to get ahead of coming challenges, said Morneau.
In the next 20 years, 70 per cent of jobs will be impacted by automation and globalization, and 40 per cent will disappear altogether, he said, citing research from the Brookfield Institute in Toronto.
“We know the job market is changing dramatically,” said Morneau. “We need to ensure that Canadians are prepared for the job market of today and tomorrow. It’s critically important.”
“When I think about the role of ensuring that our economy remains strong for the long term, the starting point is really thinking about how do young people — and people who are maybe not so young — consider the future, how do they think about what it is that they want to do in the future? How do they get the education and the training and skills that they need for their current job, or for the next iteration of their job, or the one that’s after that?”
Pinpointing future skills is often a daunting conversation, and establishing a Future Skills Centre provides an opportunity to change that narrative, said Gladys Okine, a member of the Future Skills Council and executive director of First Work, Ontario’s Youth Employment Network in Toronto.
“It’s difficult to talk about something that you cannot see,” she said. “We don't know exactly what the future of work and life is going to look like just yet, but we know the changes that we're experiencing right now.”
The centre will bring the conversation to a national level and allow for “really significant” progress, said Lawrence Daniels, a member of the Future Skills Centre’s interim advisory board and CEO of FireSpirit, an Indigenous HR company in Opaskwayak, Man.
“When we talk about future skills, we’re really talking about empowering our families and empowering the ability for us to work together.”
The centre is part of Canada’s plan to build up an agile workforce — a necessity at a time when a labour shortage is limiting the economy’s growth, said Hajdu.
“The work that the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre is doing is actually an economic imperative,” she said. “It’s the smart thing to do, it’s the socially just thing do and it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
“We know that we have to get better at closing that skills gap.”
Such a gap — where jobs don’t have people and people don’t have jobs — is not simply today’s problem, said Morneau.
“It’s going to be, if anything, a more difficult challenge in the future,” he said.
Research and information exchange are necessary as industrialized countries face rapid economical change, said Morneau.
“We can be a beacon for the world if we’re able to make sure that all of us are more successful together, which is what the goal is overall.”
And while the Future Skills Centre announcement is a “critical step” in discovering the necessary skills for the future of work, there’s plenty more to be done, said Morneau.
“Ensuring that people have the ability to develop the skills that they need to train and to retrain for their current and future jobs — that requires more thinking,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s going to be over in Budget 2019 or Budget 2020. It’s going to be an ongoing discussion, because the nature of our work is changing rapidly.”
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