Dave McCann is the president of IBM Canada
Earlier this year at its annual general meeting, the World Economic Forum shared estimates that more than one billion jobs will be “radically transformed” by technology in the next decade. While this number is staggering, it isn’t surprising. Technology continues to advance at a pace so unprecedented that preparing for tomorrow’s economy requires incredible adaptability and agility. Consider that six months ago ChatGPT had not even been launched; yet, now, there are estimates it could impact 300 million jobs worldwide through shifts in workflow and automation.
Innovation at scale creates an imperative for continual skill development. The accelerated advancement of technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing has put us on the verge of a technological revolution, creating a demand for expertise that will be difficult to fulfill if we don’t prepare the workforce now.
In addition to strengthening Canada’s talent base, there are compelling reasons to invest in skills to support these new technologies, some of which have the potential to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. For example, quantum computing can help accelerate drug discovery or AI can be used to improve climate decision-making – but only if there is sufficient human expertise capable of harnessing its power. One of the key actions Canada can take is to prioritize partnerships and collaboration across business, government and academia to tackle this skills gap challenge.
The number of people working in technology and science professions in Canada increased by more than 17 per cent over five years to nearly 1.5 million people in 2021, further strengthening Canada’s position as a global leader in the technology industry. In fact, six out of 10 cities identified as tech hubs in North America — areas where the technology sector accounts for the highest proportion of employment — are in Canada. With statistics like these, it is becoming increasingly clear that Canada’s future economy will be driven by knowledge-intensive jobs requiring highly skilled workers, some with advanced degrees in technology, engineering and science which take many years to achieve.
To ensure there are enough workers to fill roles now and in the future, industry, academia and government must come together to support the evolution of today’s post-secondary curriculum. Recommended actions could include:
- Academic institutions should invest in a more diverse range of experiential learning options with programming input from industry to ensure graduates emerge with job-ready expertise. STEM roles, such a those in cybersecurity, benefit from this type of learning as problem-solving and collaboration are key skills. Government would also play a role to promote this style of education through funding mechanisms, policies and skills standards.
- We can open a larger talent pool by reimagining how post-secondary institutions offer opportunities for lifelong learning and how organizations approach skill-building. Some of tech’s fastest growing areas, including data science, quantum and AI require technical skill sets that necessitate frequent updates. Embedding an education platform into their infrastructure will help businesses retain required skills.
The imminent technological revolution will require a robust workforce with the expertise needed to extract value from the technology that benefits business. Its potential is in jeopardy, however, if we do not prime the pump of a highly skilled talent pipeline. In fact, some research has found that, unless this gap is addressed, more than half of the available quantum computing jobs will be left unfilled. To continue the advancement of science, we need the right technology but, most importantly, we need the right people.
The issue of a technology skills gap boils down to supply and demand. IBM has a long-established commitment to shaping the future of skills and education – a commitment grounded in the belief that companies have an obligation to responsibly bring new technologies into the world. By extending cross-industry and cross-sector collaboration among business, government and academia, Canada will make significant strides in supporting the development of skills we need for the workforce of the future.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.