Guest Commentary: Canada and the Future of Work

Guest Commentary: Canada, California, and the Future of Work

Rana Sarkar, Consul General of Canada, Northern California
Rana Sarkar

We are living in a time of economic upheaval and transformation, largely due to forces of globalization and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Dynamics of this new industrial change–such as automation and artificial intelligence, and the rise of the “gig” economy–are dramatically altering how Californians, Canadians and citizens around the world live and work. Many technological developments originate in Silicon Valley, yet governments worldwide and at all levels must grapple with how these developments affect their citizens.

As Canada’s Consul General to Northern California, I am fortunate to be able to share Canada’s approach to the future of work at public forums throughout the state. Canada faces similar labor challenges to those in California:  income inequality and ensuring that a rising tide does in fact lift all boats.  To address these challenges, Canada has adopted a balanced approach to ensure that the Canadian labor force is prepared to take on the jobs of the future. Our approach includes three elements – advanced training, lifelong learning and modernized labor standards – to upgrade our workforce for tomorrow.

  • Advanced training: Canada is implementing workforce development policies that ensure the next generation of workers is prepared for the future. Through its Future Skills Program, Canada is investing in advanced workforce training in automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and clean tech. The Future Skills Program creates an expansive employment network to enhance access to in-demand training and skills. The program focuses on those not fully participating in Canada’s prosperity. The under and unemployed, women, youth, indigenous people, newcomers, racialized people, people with disabilities, veterans, and those from rural and remote communities can all benefit from this program.
  • Lifelong learning: Through Canada’s Skills Boost, the government is providing support to adults who want to return to work and upgrade their skills.  The Skills Boost program creates life-long learning accounts to ensure` Canadian workers can have access to highly skilled, good paying jobs. It allows those recently laid off and returning to school to continue to collect unemployment and provides training grants for low- and middle-income adults with children. Adults who have been out of school for ten years or more also can qualify for post-secondary education grants.
  • Modernized labor standards: Third, Canada is working to modernize labor standards in order to address workforce changes brought about by globalization, changes in technology, socio demographic shifts, and the explosion of the gig-economy. Through legislation and policy implementation, Canada is creating more flexibility around a worker’s schedule and benefits, providing greater labor protections for non-standard (i.e., gig-economy) workers, and allowing workers the fundamental “right to disconnect” from work-related communications outside of work.

Further, the thrust and values of these strategies are reflected across government from our approach to trade agreements, including the USMCA, to attracting and integrating new Canadians and economic policy making.

With these strategies, the Canadian government is taking steps that address the future of work for all of its citizens. As we collectively face the urgent challenges of the post-digital workforce, government at all levels, in close partnership with other sectors, need to take urgent, agile and often experimental action to ensure a successful transition into this new era. We are still in the early days of this effort.  Openness, good will and trust and the ability to work inclusively across organizational and generational boundaries are key to success. We believe Canada is on the right path and hope to learn from our friends and allies in California, and around the world, as we do even more to support our future workers.

Rana Sarkar is Consul General of Canada, Northern California. He prepared this guest commentary in February 2020.