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Thinking Twice About Technology and the Future of Work

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Technology is being used to change power balances in workplaces and to perpetuate long-standing precarious employment relationships, Jim Stanford argues. But the exploitative practices of the gig economy reflect deliberate choices, rather than the inevitable onward march of technology, and creating better jobs also lies within our power.

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Key Takeaways

New technologies, such as AI, automation and self-driving cars, have led to concerns that technology will rapidly transform and even eliminate many jobs. But in PPF’s latest report, economist Jim Stanford reviews the literature and finds that these assumptions misunderstand how our economy works, disregard the history of labour, technology and employment relationships, and misdiagnose the challenges facing workers. He reminds us that this time of disruption is a reflection of our past choices, rather than the inevitable onward march of technology, and creating better jobs also lies within our power.

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Jim Stanford makes the link between low business investment in equipment and skills training, and a halving of productivity growth in OECD nations.

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Disruption in the relationship between empolyers and workers – like the gig economy – is a reflection of our past choices, rather than the inevitable onward march of technology, and creating better jobs also lies within our power.

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Executive Summary

Every day, Canadians make choices that affect their careers and lives, and businesses make choices that affect their organizations. Accurate, timely and relevant information is needed to ensure these decisions are well informed. However, recent developments (including technological change) have created information gaps in the area of skills and skill requirements for jobs. Even the skill requirements for many traditional jobs are changing and employers report challenges in finding workers with the right skills to fill vacancies—in industries old and new. Similarly, workers struggle to understand the changing skills needed for jobs and often lack the tools and knowledge to meet these new requirements. How do workers and employers make sense of this labour market, which is increasingly driven by supply-and-demand of skills as opposed to the qualifications of graduates?

By most metrics, Canada’s economy and labour market are healthy, but to continue to build prosperity and economic opportunity, policymakers and employers will need to identify and better articulate the skills needed in this dynamic world of work. In short, a stronger, more insightful informational architecture around skills is required.

Better clarity of definitions and measurement of skills are needed, as well as easily accessible information about the skills demanded today and expected to be in demand tomorrow. Otherwise, researchers, policymakers and others can’t define and measure skills-related issues in the labour market.

Yet a taxonomy alone is inadequate. For workers to thrive and employers to find talent, the skills taxonomy must be connected to occupations through the National Occupation Classification. If skills and jobs can be mapped onto one another this way, it will enable a better understanding of worker and job characteristics.

From there, all possible approaches, including new techniques to harvest big data, should be assessed and used to measure skills needs in the labour market. Employment and Social Development Canada and Statistics Canada should manage this taxonomy and mapping to ensure its credibility, rigour and integrity, as these federal departments have the knowledge and statistical infrastructure to do so.

Canada’s continued economic success relies on its ability to improve skills-related policies and programs. In particular, information on the skills and training needs of employers and workers must be improved—which, among other things, will help education and training providers prepare and better support workers in navigating the changing world of work. Good labour market information is what lies at the heart of solving the skills puzzle.

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Media Contact

Eglantine Ronfard
Communications Manager
eglantine.ronfard@fsc-ccf.ca
647.262.3706

Authors

Jim Stanford

Senior Economist, Labour Market Information Council (LMIC), ESDC

Jim Stanford

Jim Stanford is Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work, based at the Australia Institute. The Australia Institute is Australia’s most influential progressive think tank. The Centre for Future Work focuses on issues of work, labour markets, income, economic development, technology, inequality, skills, and more. The Centre was founded in May 2016, and Jim is its inaugural Director.

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