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Canadian Government Endorses Lifelong Learning for Workers

Ottawa skyline at dusk.

​The government of Canada said it is committed to making the largest investment in Canadian history to train its skilled and multicultural workforce for the 2030s and beyond.

A Future Skills Council report on behalf of the federal government from November 2020 focuses on fostering a culture of lifelong learning among Canadian workers so they can be prepared for the future of work.

"Canada needs to develop a skilled workforce capable of adopting new technologies and business models while ensuring the well-being of communities and society," said Rhonda Fernandes, executive director of the Future Skills Office at Employment and Social Development Canada in Gatineau, Quebec. "Canadians want to develop skills that are in demand in the labor market to improve their ability to get and keep good jobs."

The Canadian government invests nearly CAN$7.5 billion (approximately US$6 billion) each year to support employment and skills training programs. More than CAN$3 billion (approximately US$2.4 billion) is delivered to provinces and territories, targeting students, Indigenous groups and unemployed Canadians, according to Canada's Budget 2019.

The report outlines the following priorities for strengthening Canada as a learning nation:

  • Investing in emerging technologies in the workplace, while strengthening digital and cybersecurity skills and integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into workforce development planning.
  • Improving support for underrepresented groups—such as youth, women, people with disabilities, Asian Canadians, Black Canadians and Indigenous people—to bring down systemic barriers in their skills development.
  • Encouraging more collaboration between employers, educational institutions and training providers to integrate learning into work. Employers and unions can play a key role in on-the-job training.

"The federal government has taken a strong first step in identifying the skills Canadian workers need for the future," said Margaret Yap, Ph.D., associate professor in human resources management at Ryerson University's School of Business Management in Toronto.

Skills for Tomorrow's Jobs

COVID-19 has disrupted the Canadian workplace, as technological trends like automation, telework and e-commerce are changing on-the-job expectations, Fernandes noted.

According to a 2020 Survey on Employment and Skills conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, 50 percent of the Canadian labor force said they have had no employer-delivered skills training in the last five years. 

To tackle this problem, business leaders need to develop digital skills and invest in training for workers and management, suggests the federal government.

The best way to develop digital skills in Canadian workers is to make technology more accessible to them from the outset, explained Kevin Wang, chief operating officer at Wiz-Tec Computing Technologies in Calgary, Alberta.

The federal government also proposes Canadian employers should tap into more experiential training programs to reskill workers at all stages of their careers, including augmented reality, virtual reality and AI.

"Reskilling is teaching Canadians workers new skills that are important for staying relevant in a changing world," Wang added. "Employers must realize they share a responsibility in helping Canadians learn new skills."

In the midst of automation and technological disruption, business leaders must further hone their social and emotional skills to succeed in the Canadian workplace, noted Leon Goren, president and CEO of PEO Leadership in Toronto.

"Leaders must be able to actively listen, express empathy, show self-control and flexibility," Goren said. "They must have these skills so they can engage and inspire their employees to perform. People need to feel connected with each other, as well as to a greater purpose." 

Diversity Is Canada's Strength

The pandemic has also exposed inequalities in the Canadian workforce, including pay gaps faced by disadvantaged groups and immigrants, noted Eddy Ng, Ph.D., a professor of management at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

Canadian women continue to earn 23 percent less in total income compared with men, according to a March 2021 ADP Canada survey.

Canada's Pay Equity Act proposes to require employers in the federal government to take a proactive approach to correct gender wage gaps. If the act becomes law later in 2021, women will receive equal pay for work of equal value to men, Ng explained, but this act will only cover gender, not race.

The untapped potential of Canadians who face barriers presents an opportunity for employers to meet their organizational needs by benefitting from a more diverse workforce and inclusive workplace, Fernandes stated. 

Many organizations in Canada have diversity and inclusion policies in place, but managers need to implement them for those policies to be effective, Yap said.

"The commitment to building a diverse organization should come from the top," she added. "A mentoring program for new hires could help a company with retention."

HR and the Future of Work

HR plays an integral role in terms of thinking about skills development in the Canadian workplace, Fernandes explained. 

"The future of work in Canada requires job seekers, workers and employers to be adaptable and resilient in the face of continuous change," Fernandes concluded. "Promoting a culture and mindset of lifelong learning requires action by all Canadians. We all need to work together to ensure that skills policies and programs are flexible, [and to] adapt and adjust to evolving needs."

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia.


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