Post-pandemic Canada is facing an employment crisis. Statistics Canada reports that there are more than one million job vacancies in Canada. The shortages cover most job categories from health workers to certified journeymen to restaurant and service workers. The shortages are most pronounced in work environments that require formal training and certification. There is an obvious call on provincial and federal governments to act. Our governments are urgently needed to expand our educational systems to prepare more college, university, and specialist graduates.
One immediate problem is the high cost of education. A typical college student will have a debt of fifteen to twenty thousand dollars at graduation. For university graduates this debt is more than thirty thousand dollars. In all cases, educational debt is a rough way to enter the labour force. Hence, there is an immediate need for debt relief for recent graduates.
While immediate action to solve the labour shortage is necessary, there is an even greater need to deal with longer-term issues. These include the effects new technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), will have on the workplace. As an example, consider the situation of truck drivers. Currently, Canadian trucking companies have to deal with a severe shortage of qualified drivers. But most projections for the next fifteen years, estimate that more than half of the drivers currently needed will be replaced by some sort of fully automated delivery system. This may involve drones, automated (AI driven) vehicles, or other fully automated mechanisms. In short, there may, in the future, be a surplus of truck drivers.
Of course, truck driving is not the only occupation that faces potential problems caused by developments in AI. The projections are for fifty percent or more of all human work to be affected to a noticeable degree by AI and related developments. And this raises the question “What is to be done?”. Certain actions must be taken now in the field of education. First, workers must be trained to meet the immediate needs. Our economic and social standards cannot be met while there are serious labour shortages. But, perhaps more importantly, training and education must be flexible enough to allow for adoption to changing environments. Education must become a continuous endeavour for all workers, no matter what the speciality.
This may be accomplished by adjustments to our social norms. Gains made by increased automation should result in shorter work weeks. This would make more time available for continuous learning.
Courses and training will be delivered, in a large part, via the internet and will allow for flexible study times geared to each individual’s need.
To meet the future challenges and opportunities, we must start now. Our governments must put the required infrastructure in place. Individuals must be prepared to adjust to the new societal demands. There must be a firm commitment from all to work for a meaningful today and a better future by being prepared and willing to engage in expanding their knowledge and skills.