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Are there actually going to be talent shortages in the future?

Workplace trends may mitigate predicted shortages

 By Brian Kreissl

Returning to one of the themes explored last week, I am intrigued how we’re now starting to see two different schools of thought emerging with respect to labour and talent shortages and whether they will even be a serious concern in the not-too-distant future.

Other than through immigration, there’s little we can do about demographic trends and the composition and size of tomorrow’s workforce. There is no question the Canadian workforce is getting older and there will shortly be fewer entrants into the workforce.

While some people are predicting severe talent shortages and an employee’s job market, for various reasons other people are predicting the exact opposite. They point to increased automation and technological innovations such as robotics and artificial intelligence as having the potential to eliminate many people’s jobs within a few short years.

Predictions for the legal profession

I work with a lot of lawyers in a group focused on publishing for the legal market. I also have a legal background myself, so I read quite a bit about current trends and future prognostications for the legal profession.

If many of the experts are to be believed, the future of the legal profession may be rather bleak. Commentators like Richard Susskind argue there will likely be fewer opportunities for lawyers in the future due to increased automation, offshoring, outsourcing, cost pressures and regulatory changes.

Software already exists that can help to automate many of the more routine aspects of legal practice such as document review. The impact on the legal profession also has parallels for many other types of highly skilled work that were previously thought to be too “high touch” to be impacted by technology. While this will no doubt create opportunities for practitioners who are particularly tech savvy – or who can concentrate on more high value work – some will no doubt be left behind.

Increased leisure time

Many futurists were predicting that by now we would have a whole lot more leisure time on our hands due to automation. While some people worried that would mean many people would end up losing their jobs, others argued that technological advancements would actually result in increased opportunities for more highly skilled workers.

For the longest time, it basically worked that way with technology actually creating new opportunities. As mentioned in a previous blog post, new opportunities were created through increased regulation, societal changes and the fact that new technologies such as smartphones began to be seen as necessities.

Although technology did result in increased efficiencies, we as a society began to covet more things and consume more services with the result that more people were required to produce what society required than was anticipated would be the case. But, while full employment basically became a thing of the past, most people still had a job – and those who were actually working ended up working longer hours than ever before. Nevertheless, there are signs that might be starting to change.

Concerns about skills shortages

While many people will remember hearing about how the majority of new jobs in the future were likely to be highly skilled and require advanced training, it feels like that largely hasn’t panned out. Although many employers lament so-called skills shortages in certain fields, employees with the skills that are highly in demand are able to command a premium.

Yet, many of the jobs that are being created today are poorly paid, low-skilled service industry type jobs with few meaningful prospects. In many ways, the job market has become bifurcated into haves and have-nots.

University graduates these days have difficulties finding meaningful work. And with all of the hand-wringing about Canada supposedly requiring more graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, the reality is that even many of those grads struggle to find work and are forced to take jobs for which they are overqualified.

So, who is right?

While none of us have a crystal ball, I think demographic trends combined with societal and technological changes will mean the overall demand and supply of labour will be roughly balanced in the future. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges or a certain amount of pain due to economic restructuring and retraining being required, but here’s hoping for a future with more or less full employment and more meaningful work where employers are able to find and develop employees with the skills they need.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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