Let’s Talk Future Skills podcast series

The Future Skills podcast series explores the impact of technology, new business models, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors on workforce trends and emerging in-demand skills. Hear Future Skills Council members and invited guests share ways to take action to help Canadians get training and develop the skills they need to succeed and to support business growth now and in the future. Discussions include priorities and action areas to help build a skilled, agile, and inclusive workforce.

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Episode 1: What is Future Skills

Part 1: Why Future Skills is important

Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada and Future Skills Council member, and Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, explain Future Skills and why skills development is crucial in a context of rapid change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They discuss the roles of the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre and how they work together.

Duration: 15:04 minutes

Transcript of Why Future Skills is important

Pedro Barata:

Instead of playing Chicken Little—I think there’s too much of that, and that’s all we hear about some days. What if instead we turned that question around and talked about the amazing things that can happen if we do act, even in these toughest of times?

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. Given the social and economic upheaval over the last 12 months, including the loss of jobs and the evolution of the post-pandemic economy, it is more important than ever to address the current and future opportunities for Canada’s labour force. So the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre are working on a plan and a course of action to meet this head on. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Rachel Wernick, a Future Skills Council Member and the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada, and Pedro Barata, the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre. Together, they discuss the retooling of Canada’s workforce.

Rachel Wernick:

Thanks for having me today. My job in the federal government: I’m leading the skills and employment branch in Employment and Social Development Canada, and as the name suggests, the work that we cover is all of the skills and employment programming related to an effective, efficient labour market. So it spans from Employment Insurance through apprenticeship and skilled trades, youth employment, pretty much everything that you think of, what you think of skills and employment programming in the federal government. It’s a great job. It’s always interesting. Never a dull moment.

Pedro Barata:

I’m the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, and my team works as part of a consortium that also includes Ryerson University, the Conference Board of Canada and Blueprint. And together, we’re thinking about what the future of work is going to mean for all of us here in Canada and what skills we will need to succeed in this changing labour market, where technology, rapid change, collaboration, ongoing learning will be increasingly the reality. And so, our job is really to design, to test and to learn what kinds of systems and programs need to be in place to best equip Canadians for success in this new future context.

Rachel Wernick:

What we see with the Future Skills Centre, as Pedro said earlier, I would think of it as—often we talk about, in the private sector—R&D, research and development. It’s an innovation hub. It’s about prototyping, testing, evaluating innovative approaches to skills assessment and development. The Government had the foresight to say, you know, it’s hard to do that in our day-to-day, running programs. Let’s create a dedicated space that can step out of the current, look ahead and sort of get ahead of things by testing things to get us ready and inform our policy and program and service design through this sort of innovation hub. So that’s fundamentally what the Centre is all about. And Pedro could do a much better job going into detail on that.

Pedro Barata:

Our mandate is really to help Canadians navigate a future economy, and our particular focus is on ensuring all of us can have access to the skills we’re going to need to contribute to our shared prosperity. So, as we’ve mentioned, we are looking at, number one, what is this future of work and how is the economy and the necessary skills change—how are those changing? Number 2, we are then responding to those changes by working with partners in business, in community, in post-secondary to really prototype and test approaches that can provide some breakthroughs in terms of how we approach skills development and really anticipate what some of the challenges are going to be and to learn from those and to learn what works as we make this shift. And, number 3, our job is to ensure that all of that experimentation and all of that learning doesn’t just sit on the proverbial digital shelf, but that it actually is embraced and understood and adopted by the broader ecosystem. So our knowledge mobilization, our engagement with the ecosystem and our active proactive partnerships are very important to the work that we do. And I’ll add one piece, which is that we put a real premium—we’re obviously here for all Canadians because we’re all going to be impacted by these changes—but we are putting a premium on figuring out how we can better include Canadians that have been disadvantaged by, you know, where they live, maybe in rural or remote communities, or because of their gender, their race, their ability, or even because of systemic discrimination facing Indigenous peoples. So that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is very central to the work that we do. And, in fact, most of our innovation partnerships across the country have a real focus on ensuring that nobody gets left behind.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

For the benefit of those listening, Rachel will now explain the role of the Future Skills Council.

Rachel Wernick:

What we have with the Council is, well, how can that centre be informed, how can it be connected to what experts, practitioners and representatives from all sectors of Canada say is important to work on and to innovate and to figure out for the future? So the Council is fundamentally this amazingly diverse group of individuals that reflect a huge diversity of perspectives, of sectors, of voices and expertise, lived experience, and they’re coming together in this unique way at the Council table to talk about these issues and to work together to find what are the common priorities that we all agree on. What are some recommendations we can make to the Minister of Workforce Development and the Government of Canada about, you know, where we should prioritize action? And Pedro—and the Council—have been intimately involved and heard all of these discussions and has that report and that can help inform his sort of forward planning about priority areas. So that’s how they complement each other. But together, they’re fundamentally about preparing Canada and helping Canadians, helping our economy and our society work towards a better future.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

So when we hear the term “future skills,” what exactly is meant by that? And why should Canadians care?

Rachel Wernick:

I think sometimes when people hear “future skills,” you know, what jumps into their mind are robots and some kind of a very futuristic, you know, science fiction movie we’ve all watched. And while we all know that technology is rapidly changing and that’s a big part of what we have to adapt to in terms of skills requirements, I think Future Skills really is about looking to the future and making sure that we are developing skills that allow us to embrace the opportunities that are coming and to drive that future. So skills that will allow us to drive the economy and society where we want it to go as a country rather than to be passively receiving it. Skills are what help you secure employment and make a living. Skills are what allow you to interact effectively in your community and be an engaged citizen. Skills are linked to health and all sorts of different things. I mean, fundamentally, and this is so important because at its core, it’s about quality of life and being able to live the life you want to, and aspire to, and that’s why I’m so passionate about skills, because they really are at the core of avoiding poverty and all of the negative sides of things that can come out of life. They really do make us more resilient and able to succeed.

Pedro Barata:

I loved Rachel’s positive take on this, and I actually, I’m going to, I’m going to build on it and instead of playing Chicken Little—I think there’s too much of that and that’s all we hear about some days. What if instead we turned that question around and talked about the amazing things that can happen if we do act, even in the toughest of times?

Rachel Wernick:

We have a great opportunity, and I say that in all humility, not to minimize the difficulty, but that everyone is going through. But we do have an opportunity to accelerate some things we’ve talked about for a long time and to think about as we put in place new programs and new approaches and build towards recovery. How do we do that in a way that is building for the long term? And that’s what made Future Skills so prescient and so timely, is that before the pandemic hit, this is the kind of work that we were looking at, is how to take a look at the future and what would be a way to improve in a sustained way the skills system in Canada.

Pedro Barata:

Well, obviously, as we’ve all seen, we need to act for the short term. Canadians expect that, and we’ve seen public policy work and really step up when Canadians needed it most. And so that has been really, really important. And that sort of short-term work—that immediacy around the crisis—needs to remain, of course. At the same time, as Rachel has mentioned, we also need to create space within this crisis to start to proactively plan and build a playbook for the long term. And that’s really the space that Future Skills provides. It’s not about, you know, taking our focus away from the real challenges that Canadians are facing now. It’s about adding a dimension to that so that we’re learning in real time. We’re thinking about the acceleration of a lot of things that we thought might take a while longer to come to terms and how it is that we prepare ourselves for the future. So while there’s this totally justified and crucial focus that we need to have right now, we also need to respond and step up for the long-term recovery. And one of the ways that’s really brought that to focus for us at Future Skills has really been in the hardest-hit sector, which has been hospitality. And we were able to work with the hospitality industry starting in Ontario to really look at the crisis and to build a strategy and work very closely with the industry and with OTEC [Ontario Tourism Education Corporation] to reach out to mass displacement of workers. But at the same time that we did that, we also took the opportunity to implement a new skills survey to really take stock of what skills displaced workers bring to the table, which we didn’t have before. And that kind of labour market information, adding that to the mix, is really crucial in terms of future planning, whether it’s in reskilling for the industry or for adjacent industries or even for other industries that may be, you know, paths to recovery. We’ve also invested in a new digital platform that brings together both employers, small, medium enterprises, some of the bigger employers, as well as displaced workers and those that are in the field. So that we’re all learning and seeing the same information in real time and that digital platform during times of a lot of disruption can become a go-to place to get information to find out about emerging opportunities, to craft a shared path for recovery. And we’re also using that as also a platform for some rapid prototyping as a sort of fog begins to lift on the future of the hospitality industry. What are some of the emerging opportunities to even link with adjacent sectors like agriculture? And how is it that we can prototype some of the reskilling initiatives, really learn from them and start to build models that can take us to scale both in hospitality as well as in other industries that are shifting. So what we’ve seen is that the crisis does call on us to respond to the immediate needs of Canadians, and certainly we’ve done that through the hospitality outreach to displaced workers. But to also, you know, leverage that to pivot and start to think about, what are the building blocks that we need to put in place for the future? So it’s been a time for pivoting and for changing our speed, which is the reality, I think, for all of us. But it’s been a challenging time. At the same time, it’s been a time where we’ve really looked for opportunities to accelerate some of the things that we knew were going to happen anyway. They just got here a whole lot faster than what we originally thought.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Join us for part 2 of this podcast where Rachel and Pedro delve into ESDC’s Future Skills report entitled Canada – A Learning Nation: A skilled, agile workforce ready to shape the future. You can download the report from our website, Canada.ca. Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 20.8 MB) Why Future Skills is important

Part 2: Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada and Future Skills Council member, and Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, talk about the Future Skills Council report and 5 priorities to drive change to better prepare Canadians for the future of work. They discuss what is meant by a learning nation and the call to action for all sectors to help Canadians seize emerging opportunities.

Duration: 14:25 minutes

Transcript of Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Rachel Wernick:

Really, what this learning nation is about, it’s about a mentality, but it’s about a reality. So hopefully the call to action, everybody says: Hey, what can be my part in contributing to that learning nation?

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. On today’s podcast, we’ll pick up where we left off with Rachel Wernick, a Future Skills Council Member and the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada, and Pedro Barata, the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre. The Future Skills Council’s report was launched in November 2020. Rachel now explains how the report came to be and identifies the key priorities and the concrete areas for action.

Rachel Wernick:

I think it is important to underscore the extensive consultation that was behind the report. The council is representative of the private, the public and the not-for-profit sectors, all geographic regions. And so what they were tasked to do in the very early days is to undertake a consultation and engagement on some of the key priorities, issues, challenges—and this represented hundreds of Canadians and over 150 organizations that were consulted. This looked at both domestic and international practices and expertise. So the report is not the personal opinions of the 15 people, though I’m sure they’re factored in. It really represents the sectors that they come from and a very robust engagement to inform the work that the Council did and deliberated on, whether it’s from the perspective of the different regions and parts of Canada. We had Indigenous representatives from Métis Nation, First Nation and Inuit. So we really had a diverse representation, like I said, also practitioners, academics. And the consultations, I think it really does matter because the purpose of this council was to tap into as broad a perspective and as many lived experiences of Canadians as we could, so that that would be reflected in its recommendations. So Priority 1 is helping Canadians make informed choices. So we hear this, and I’ve heard this for many years, job seekers, workers, employers, everybody is hungry for easy to use, easy-to-access information and tools. They want to know, you know, where the jobs are, what kind of skills are needed for those jobs, what is the quality training that they could take to acquire those skills. And so, this priority really taps into that hunger for information and the ability to make informed choices. Priority 2 is about equality of opportunity for lifelong learning. So I think the pandemic has really shone a light on some of the structural and systemic barriers that many people face. And so the report, again, has put a big priority on ensuring that those barriers are removed and ensuring access for all Canadians in training and skills development. Priority 3 is dedicated to Indigenous self-determination. It’s skills development to support Indigenous self-determination. And we’ve learned that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are the best placed to design and deliver strategies that are most adapted to their communities. And so this priority looks at how we can apply that understanding to training and skills in Canada. Priority 4 is new and innovative approaches to skills development and validation. So we’ve talked about that and how rapidly changing job demands are where we need skills assessments and skills development approaches that keep up with that change and provide new and flexible ways to meet both workers’ and employers’ needs. And finally, Priority 5 is skills development for sustainable futures. And this kind of comes back to what I said a little bit earlier about not only thinking about the here and now and the skills that we might need for the jobs of today. But how do we create that sustainable future, and how do we support that approach? Whether it’s to have the skills required for a clean, zero-emissions economy or other areas that we know this change is part of what we need to do to have a sustainable economy and society. So that’s the 5 priorities.

Pedro Barata:

I really liked how you’ve laid that out, Rachel, in terms of the highlights of the report and how the Council is not trying to oversimplify what is really a complex issue and pretended that somehow there are these silver bullets. It’s very intellectually honest. I also—to an earlier point that you made, Rachel—I really like that, it’s—the report—especially the process, does not try to leapfrog the current ecosystem and surrounded itself with science fiction thinkers and writers that are detached from the reality of our ecosystem. And in fact, you know, the people who were at the table are the educators, the employers, the labour leaders, the community practitioners that are both driving the system now, but also understand that change needs to happen. And how that report is pointing to how current players need to be the drivers of change for tomorrow, I think shows that it’s grounded in a realistic and very sound theory of change. And as you’ve noted, you know, sometimes when we move really fast and when we’re thinking about the future, some things get compromised. And this report certainly does not compromise the importance of equality, of opportunity, of Indigenous self-determination and the systemic barriers that are put in place. Most of all, I’m quite impressed by, you know, the process for modelling consensus across different stakeholders. This is not easy to achieve. But this is what’s going to move us forward, right? When you get different voices, different perspectives to force ourselves to think about the win-win-win and to match that with a call to action that lays out a pretty comprehensive agenda for the recovery. So kudos to the Council for all of the work and for, and for getting this, this roadmap.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

So if Canada is to become a learning nation, what are the next steps?

Rachel Wernick:

We all, whether we know we’re doing it or not, are constantly learning new things and adapting. The question is: Do we want to make that easier on ourselves? Do we want to equip ourselves better? Do we want to have supports and information? Do we want to break down the barriers that make it harder for us to engage in that learning, whether it’s, you know, the systemic barriers or the cost of child care, I mean whatever it is, this report is saying, look, lifelong learning and having to adapt, and it’s here, it’s now and it’s going to continue. So where can we prioritize our efforts to support workers, support employers, to support governments, to support the voluntary sector? Basically, how do we help everybody navigate this kind of constant learning and requirement to adapt? And so I think that’s really what this learning nation is about. It’s about a mentality, but it’s about a reality. And so hopefully the call to action, everybody says: Hey, what can be my part in contributing to that learning nation?

Pedro Barata:

You know, I think Canadians are increasingly likely to face change during their professional careers, so their career path is not going to be about being really good at what you already know, but increasingly about this desire for lifelong learning that Rachel talked about. And to get that right, really encourage anybody to think about the balance of skills between technological, cognitive and social-emotional skills. We’re going to need all 3. And often it is that last part, it’s the social-emotional skills, that’s a little bit harder to grasp. So our partners at the Conference Board of Canada have developed some great tools. They’ve brought in, you know, the best understanding and some assessment tools that have been used internationally that can really help people better understand that side of the equation and also better understand where they sit and what some of the strengths and gaps might be. And I would encourage anybody who’s thinking about this in their own career paths to visit the Conference Board of Canada’s website and make use of those tools. We would also encourage Canadians who are interested in skills development and especially those who are working in the field of skills development and trying to figure out how is it that you keep up with your practice to work with us by joining Future Skills Centre’s community of practice that’s powered by Magnet, and that’s really creating a platform for bringing together those of us who are going to be imagining and implementing the future to learn from each other, to not reinvent the wheel, and to avail ourselves of, you know, the best evidence and the best examples of what works and hopefully continue to build an effective practice that can help Canadians.

Rachel Wernick:

A lot of things need to come together to really support Canadians and in increasing their skills and to support employers and offering skills development opportunities to support community organizations in the work they do. We need to figure out how to, kind of, mainstream some of these approaches and bring to bear policies and supports that break down those systemic and structural barriers that still keep people away from improving those skills. We need to look at very different ways of approaching skills development. I think that’s because we haven’t truly moved to a skills competency-based models, to models that look at that first, rather than what degree, certificates or even the way we describe work on a CV. We talk about it in terms of activities we did, not competencies.

Pedro Barata:

Well, I mean, just connecting the dots here and what we’re hearing from employers where, on the one hand, we’re hearing from employers that skills and constant reskilling, upskilling is going to be absolutely crucial, not just in terms of the recovery, but in terms of the ongoing success of any business. So on the one hand, we’re hearing that from the vast majority of employers. On the other hand, we’re also seeing that, you know, given current business models, investment in on-the-job skills training is not necessarily going to be a priority for employers. So that’s a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity, because we have an opportunity here for that collaboration thing that Rachel was talking about earlier. We have an extensive ecosystem of skills development and training across the country that right now can be leveraged to be much more demand driven and to work much more closely with employers and with sectors to figure out how we help to co-create answers for the skills challenge—both for the recovery and for the future—and to not leave solutions up to any one sector, but to really find a common ground and find how it is that we can work together. I think that’s at the nexus of how we build the next playbook, is for each of us from our own place to really put Canadians, Canadian workers and Canadian businesses at the centre and really make skills the connector that can help us move forward.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast, and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 19.9 MB) Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Episode 2: Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

David Ticoll, Future Skills Council member and Chair of the National Stakeholder Advisory Panel of the Labour Market Information Council, and Steven Tobin, Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council, join forces to dig into the importance of having good labour market information to make informed choices on skills development and job training. They also discuss the importance of skills to find work and succeed in the future.

Duration: 21:40 minutes

Transcript of Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

Steven

Many Canadians are struggling today and, in some form or another, will always struggle to figure out, how is it that I find that next job? Or, how do I find my first job? And what, what information do I need in order to make that decision, and, and make a decision that will lead to a positive outcome?

Jamie

Hello, and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. Given the upheaval we’ve all faced since early 2020, including the loss of jobs and the evolution of the post pandemic economy, it is more important than ever to address the current and future opportunities for Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from David Ticoll, a Future Skills Council member, and Steven Tobin, the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council. Together, they discuss the importance of timely, relevant and accessible labour market information so that Canadians can make informed decisions on jobs, skills and training—a key part in building a learning nation.

David

Hello, I’m David Ticoll, and I’m very pleased to be here with my long term colleague, Steven Tobin. So today, we’re here to discuss a part of the Future Skills Council report, the part that focuses on helping Canadians make informed choices about jobs and skills. And for this discussion, Steven and I are going to focus on an important, but kind of specialized, topic. The name of this topic is labour market information.

So before we do get into the details, we’ll just talk a little bit of ourselves and where we fit into this. So my role at the Future Skills Council, I actually represent the issues of labour market information as a chair of the stakeholder panel at the Labour Market Information Council. Steven is the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council, and he has sat in on the Future Skills Council as an invited observer. So he knows a lot about what we’ve been doing.

Steven

Thanks, David. And look, happy to be talking to you today about this, what I think is a very, very critical issue. And, well, you and I have been debating and arguing and conversing about this topic for at least 3 years now. So it’s about time we recorded one of those many conversations. So, look, thanks. Thanks so much for, for organizing this today.

Look, look, for us, labour market information is, you know, in essence anything, really, that relates to data inside information—be it quantitative, qualitative—that can be used in a way that would enable Canadians to make more informed choices, be it careers, education, training, what should I study? Where should I study? So it’s really, it’s all encompassing, and it includes, in my mind, kind of the traditional things that we think about: wages, skills—which will be kind of a central theme throughout our chat today—but also things like, like cost of living, right? How much is it going to cost where I might decide to go live or study? And so it really is all encompassing in terms of how we think about making informed decisions in the workplace really.

David

So you’re leading this thing called the Labour Market Information Council. What is that?

Steven

It was kind of born out of an idea from the Forum of Labour Market Ministers. So in essence, LMIC’s board is made up of senior officials from essentially across the country. So there’s members from every province, every territory, Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as Statistics Canada. And so, we kind of fit, I would say, in that nexus between being sort of private oriented. So we’re a small organization. We’re very quick, we’re agile, but nevertheless, we have that orientation towards doing something for the greater public good. And so I think that’s kind of the space that we’re trying to, to play in while recognizing that there’s obviously many different entities that are involved in this space.

David

So now, Steven, let’s talk about, a little bit more about labour market information, and why, why is, why it’s such a big deal, and how come it’s not—may not—be so obvious to a lot of people.

Steven

Before talking about that, I think it’s really incumbent upon us to talk about what’s happening today, right? I mean, in March and April of last year, 3 million Canadians lost their job in an extremely short period of time. We’ve recovered many of those jobs. But it’s important to note that, you know, those jobs that did come back aren’t necessarily the same people who lost their job in the first instance, right? And so many Canadians are struggling today, and, in some form or another, will always struggle to figure out, how is it that I find that next job? Or, how do I find my first job? And what, what information do I need in order to make that decision, and, and make a decision that will lead to a positive outcome?

You know, we as individuals have a certain set of information and views as to what I might be willing to train. But employers have a different set of information, and quite often those decisions are made not at all based on the same information. And so I think when I think about the importance of labour market information, it’s really about ensuring that we speak the same language and that the information is there for both parties, or if I were to include training providers as well. So I think it’s a fundamental issue to address so that all Canadians have information so that they can make, I think, these tough decisions which, which have only become more challenging in the context of the pandemic.

This brings us back immediately to the theme that, you know, we’re discussing today, which is skills. And so, you know, I think it’s pretty clear that in the last decade or so, we’ve shifted our thinking from qualifications and credentials to skills. And it’s clear, you know, for me, when I was deciding to leave high school and what to do, having a credential or a degree of some sort was the currency of the day. And that’s clearly changed, right? Qualifications and credentials continue to play a vital role in kind of workforce development and helping Canadians succeed. But clearly, skills is now the new currency in terms of how we think about helping Canadians. And so that’s kind of a new shift. But, but an extremely important one. And I think this is where the gap in labour market information is, is probably the greatest in terms of, I come with a certain set of skills and qualifications. But what upskilling and reskilling might I need in order to take up a new opportunity? And what is that new opportunity demanding in terms of skills? And how can we help close that gap?

David

And it’s a 2-sided problem, because I’m not even sure how to describe what skills I have. I might know what some of them are. But if you were to sit me down and ask me, what are your skills? I’m not sure I’d exactly know how to answer that question.

So, so just moving on to this, on this topic of why LMI is a big deal. There’s another part to this, I think, which is, you know, labour market information is all around us. You know, every month we get, for example, the Stats Can report, from Statistics Canada on, on jobs, But there’s obviously a lot more labour market information out there than that. Steven, why is this still kind of an odd, arcane subject for most people?

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s 2, 2 issues that, that really come to mind. I think, you know, when we traditionally thought about, you know, leaving high school and whatnot, it was very much driven by just passions and interests. And I think for the most part, we kind of disregarded labour market information. And so part of that has to do with understanding, I think, the power that labour market information, sort of, can enable. And the other thing is, I think it was difficult to find good labour market information, so it was quite easy to kind of disregard it when you were thinking about making a decision. And so, look, I think we need to do a better job of, you know, informing people that information is power when it comes to labour market and career decisions. But I think in order to do that, we also need to do a better job in terms of providing them with the timely, with the relevant information so that it speaks to the decisions that they’re trying to make.

David

OK, so let’s, let’s talk about where we are. What are we doing well? What do we need to do a lot better?

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think it starts by this, you know, recognition that there’s been a shift in the currency from credentials and qualifications to skills. And I think, you know, the, the establishment in and of itself, of the Future Skills Council, I think in some sense pays homage to that, right? That there is this change and it needs to be addressed. And so, I think we’re on the right sort of page. And I think the report does a great job in articulating what it is we need to do in order to sort of promote and enable that learning nation culture, including labour market information. So I think we’re, we’re on the right path. The—look, the biggest challenge, again, comes with respect to skills. And given the fact that it’s new, we’re not quite there yet. But we’re really kind of in the early stages of, of how we might, I would say, refine the language of describing jobs through that lens of skills and how we describe ourselves, equally.

David

Yeah, I agree with all that. I would add a couple of other points. One thing that is, is also evident is that even for the same job or same occupation, skills demand—the demand for skills is not uniform, even within the same occupation. Different kinds of organizations, you know, that might be quite different for, for, say, a restaurant supervisor in a small corner restaurant versus someone who’s working in a large chain of restaurants. So and, you know, if you’re, if you’re trying to make a career choice, those are important, important things to think about, because, you know, from a personal perspective, you may wish, you may prefer to work in one of those environments versus the other.

And then, secondly, our occupational definitions and descriptions that we typically use in those, say those Statistics Canada monthly reports or the census that’s done every 5 or 10 years, you know, they’re fine as far as they go. But there’s so much innovation now, jobs and job titles and job descriptions, they just don’t cover the gamut anymore. There’s, you know, for example, take the emerging fields like cyber security or bioinformatics or even medical physician occupations are not, they’re not treated in a granular way. There’s one physician occupation in all of the Statistics Canada data. So there’s a lot more to be done around granularity, both around occupations and around skills. And then the last thing, of course, is that a lot of this data is neither timely enough—we don’t get it with sufficient frequency—and also it’s not local enough.

Steven

Dead on, I mean, there’s yeah, there’s certain things, I think, that need to be done on the margin. But, look, in my mind, the, the skills issue is, is probably our biggest challenge. And then, of course, once we get a bit of a handle on that, it’s of no use to anyone if we’re not able to share it with people in a way that helps them make those informed decisions, right? So we have to do both. Have to do both.

David

Yeah, well, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel around these challenges of labour market information. So basically, to provide a very high-level perspective on that, there’s traditional labour market information which is largely based on surveys. For example, when we get our monthly Statistics Canada report on jobs, they do something that’s called a household survey. They survey people who live in households, and they find out where they’re working and so on and so forth. And they compile the data and they, they, they publish a report.

There’s something else that’s happening that’s emerging and it’s emerging very quickly. And it’s already here in many, many, many ways. And that uses a very different approach. What it does is it takes very large sets of data that already exist for other reasons. And it mines that data and it analyzes that data sometimes using traditional analytical and statistical techniques. In other times, using, you know, more advanced techniques like, you know, machine learning, artificial intelligence, whatever you want to call it, and it basically reaches conclusions and finding, findings and conclusions based on these very large data sets. And some of that, some of that data is, is happening in real time. For example, postings that employers put up online or on their own websites or wherever, job postings. And there’s a continuing flow of job postings that happens over time. And those job postings change, and they provide at least the employer’s perception of the job, of the skills they need for particular jobs. And then you can add them up and you can get a volume of jobs that are in demand and so on and so forth. So this is the emerging frontier of labour market information.

And both of these methods, whether it’s traditional survey-based labour market information or large data-set-based information, they both have their strengths and they both have their limitations.

Steven

The reason real-time information matters is because things are now changing so quickly in the job market when specifically it comes to skills, right? So we’ve seen dramatic turmoil in Canada’s job market over the past year, which, in my opinion, has only accelerated the shift in skill needs and shift in skill needs across sectors, across jobs, across geographies, right? And so for me, that’s why real-time information is important, because, because you can get up-to-date information on skill requirements. And so that being what we need in order to help people move from a good job to a better job or from unemployment to a new job. That’s why it matters to me.

And I think, you know, you, you point out that these new big data sets that can be leveraged using new techniques, I think opens up a tremendous opportunity for how we think about addressing the gap in skill-related labour market information. And the question is sort of the “what” and the “how.” And I think the Future Skills Council report places the right emphasis on skills and you’d better use new and different techniques because the prevailing sources and approaches aren’t going to cut it. It’s just a question of turning, now, words into action.

David

OK, so let’s move to that. How are we turning those words into action? Well, in fact, I’m pleased to say that the Labour Market Information Council is actually taking some very big steps in this direction through a partnership with the Future Skills Centre, which is sister, a sister entity to the Future Skills Council.

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think to, to start clearly this, this partnership between LMIC and the Future Skills Centre is, you know, very much coming from the thoughts and recommendations of the Future Skills Council report in terms of, look, we need to do a better job with respect to labour market information, in particular with respect to skills. And so that’s, that’s really how the partnership was, was born.

And I think the, the objectives, broadly speaking, are, look, we need to improve the overall availability of labour market information. And that means closing the gap in terms of what is available with respect to skills and to make sure that that information is accessible in a way that Canadians and those that help Canadians can kind of access so that they can help make informed decisions.

Practically speaking, from that, we can apply some of these new technologies in terms of identifying what are the skills and other work requirements of these jobs, how they might differ across sector or geography, and thinking about how we can really generate, kind of, new ways of thinking about skills. Because, you know, the approach here is typically based on frequency. And we know that the number of times something shows up in a job posting doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as importance. So for us, that means making sure that all prevailing labour market information that exists today—be it wages, employment—is kind of curated in a way that makes sense for the individual in question.

And then I would say the biggest hurdle that we’re trying to address is putting all that information in this cloud-based repository and making it accessible to, in particular, those that we see as kind of the primary client, which is those that are helping Canadians make those decisions. But if you build an amazing website, but no one in the country has the Internet, then what’s the point? Right? So we’re building this relatively sophisticated cloud-based databank, for lack of a better word. How will people access it? And so a big part of the project will also sort of allocate really like dollars to the system in order to incentivize the creation of, of digital tools and platforms to draw on the data repository that will sort of help facilitate decision-making. And so those are kind of the 3 or 4 big pieces that we’re thinking about.

David

I got to tell you, Steven, because we talk about this and we really have a conversation about this between the 2 of us. I can’t help, help but say how exciting it feels. I mean, even though we’ve been sort of grinding away at this idea and pulling it together and making it happen for at least 2 years now since we started talking about this. And we get together, we actually chat about this and share it with whoever is out there listening to our conversation. I can’t help but feel like we’re actually moving the needle on something that’s really important. So thank you for having this wonderful discussion with me and for making me part of this process with you.

Steven

Thanks for being along for the ride. And you’re right. It’s very exciting.

David

OK, well over and out. Thank you very much for your time today.

Steven

All right. Thank you, David.

Jamie

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on the labour market information priority pillar, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 19.9 MB) Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

Episode 3: Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

Sandy MacDonald, Future Skills Council member, President and CEO of Holland College, Laurie Edwards, Director of Student and Career Services at Nova Scotia Community College and Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy discuss the foundational and transferable skills in demand by employers and shed light on the importance of knowing how to match your skills with available jobs.

Duration: 32:40 minutes

Transcript of Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

Laurie Edwards:

It’s a really exciting proposition, Sandy, to think that, you know, we can engage our employer and partners and our industry partners to help us deliver on the learning outcomes of these programs. And I know it’s about rewriting some of the curriculum pieces and the competencies so that it just doesn’t look at those hard core technical skills.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on future skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. For years, technological advancements, climate change and new business models have been transforming workplaces all over the world. The pandemic has simply accelerated those changes. Employers, workers and jobseekers are evolving and embracing the extraordinary opportunities that are redefining the future of Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Sandy MacDonald, a Future Skills Council Member; Laurie Edwards, Director of Student and Career Services at Nova Scotia Community College; and Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy. Together, they discuss the top skills required by employers and shed light on the importance of knowing how to match your skills with available jobs—a key part in building a learning nation.

Sandy MacDonald:

Hello, everyone, my name is Sandy McDonald. I’m a member of the Future Skills Council and have been for the past 2 years. As most of you know, we’ve just released a report called, Canada – A Learning Nation: A Skilled, Agile Workforce Ready to Shape the Future.

So, my background: I am CEO and President of Holland College, which has nothing to do with the Netherlands and is a community college of Prince Edward Island. I have been in this job a couple of years. I’m a psychologist by training, but I’ve also been a deputy minister and a superintendent of public schools. And I am, I have to say, excited and thrilled to be joined by 2 people today.

Laurie Edwards is Director of Student and Career Services from Nova Scotia Community College, our sister college in Halifax, covering Nova Scotia, and also Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy in Toronto, I think, Mack.

I’m going to ask first of all—before we go any further—ask first Laurie and then Mack, just to give a quick overview of what they do at their respective institutions and what they’re all about.

Laurie Edwards:

Great. Thanks so much, Sandy. I’m the Director of Student and Career Services. So within that, I oversee a number of areas, including our career development services, our employment services, our advising program, work-integrated learning and co-op ed.

Sandy MacDonald:

And I understand Laurie, you cover Nova Scotia fairly comprehensively. You’ve got a number of sites in rural and urban Nova Scotia?

Laurie Edwards:

That’s correct. So, yes. So, Nova Scotia Community College has 14 campuses, one of which is an e campus. And we’re located right across the province.

Sandy MacDonald:

Okay, all right. So, Mack, can you give us a little overview of ABC Literacy? And you’re based in Toronto, I think.

Mack Rogers:

Yes. Yes. My name’s Mack Rogers. I’m the Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy. We’re a national charity. And our goal is really about raising awareness and developing programs for skill development. And this can be workplace skills or financial literacy or reading, writing, really anything. We’re all about getting people to start talking about and start practicing their skills and begin a learning journey to improve.

We’re very big on awareness. We do a lot of marketing and communications to spread the word. We also actually develop programs and then have our partner, our partner organizations. We work with over 600 organizations across the country to develop, deliver our program. And it’s really everything we do is free. Some of it’s online, some of it, we can send you materials, but it’s really about kind of connecting people and getting them started on learning.

Sandy MacDonald:

We’re here today, for the listener’s edification, to talk about the Future Skills Council report. But we’re going to try to focus most of our conversation today on helping Canadians make informed choices. So just to start, I’d like to throw out the idea of the current skills landscape in Canada and the impact that the virus has had. And maybe Mack, if we can start with you—What’s been your organization’s experience with the pandemic in skills? And where do you think this is all going to end?

Mack Rogers:

Currently, the current skills landscape—we had a problem going into the pandemic, in that there is a skills gap in that we have many people without jobs that are looking for jobs, but don’t have the skills for jobs. And we have many jobs that are unfilled because we can’t find the people with those skills. And it is a significant problem. It’s been a problem going back as long as I’ve been at ABC, 10 years, and I think in 2010, there was a report called, People Without Jobs and Jobs Without People, by Rick Miner. Yeah, yeah. So it’s not a new problem. What has happened with the pandemic and what we’re seeing is that those most vulnerable—those that have lower literacy skills, or struggle with other employability skills—are the most exposed because they’re the ones that are often working in gig economies. They’re the ones that are the frontline workers, more often than not. They’re the ones that are, you know, losing their work and then having to come back and then go away again, depending on how lockdowns are going and what part of the country you’re in. So they’re very exposed and it’s affecting them psychologically, financially, of course, as well as just the confidence and understanding where they sit in the community in terms of a priority. So, it’s a really tricky thing to navigate if you’re a low literacy person. And not only that, the supports that we offer for low literacy Canadians are often, sorry for all Canadians, are often inaccessible or hard to access by people who are struggling with literacy.

Laurie Edwards:

I think Mack is right on: Our most vulnerable people are the ones that are most seriously affected by the pandemic. And I think about when we started into the programming for this fall was how many of our Indigenous students who are located in rural remote communities actually didn’t have the bandwidth or they didn’t have access to Internet. And so, when you think about that and how many communities across Canada and how many individuals don’t have Internet, and yet we switched to online learning practically overnight and suddenly they weren’t able to continue on with their classes and their coursework. So that, for me, was 1 of our biggest groups of how could we quickly address that and work with our government partners.

The other piece of this was, you know, the access to coming into college to pay for the computer equipment. So even if you had the bandwidth, where were you going to get the laptop? Where were you going to find the private space? Maybe you’re sharing a home with 10 other people and to do online learning that, you know, really limited people’s abilities to connect at that point.

Sandy MacDonald:

There are many citizens, I think, Canadian citizens who’d find it hard to believe that there are Canadians in the year 2021 who don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills to be successful at a post-secondary program. Would that surprise you, the view that you’d hear Canadians say, “What, literacy and numeracy is still a problem?”

Mack Rogers:

Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s something that we often shy away from in talking about literacy because the number doesn’t make sense to so many Canadians, so the actual number from an international study with a really large sample size is just under 50% of Canadians read at lower than high school level, so 48%. And then when you look at math, over 50% of Canadians, their math skills aren’t strong. And to the point where when you want to put this into context, our math and literacy skills are such that almost 50% of Canadians may not be able to read a bottle, a prescription bottle correctly. So that’s something that’s an actual tangible problem that we have. But when we talk to a lot of people about this, there’s an element of disbelief because you may look at it and say, look at my family. There’s 5 people in my family. We’re all strong readers, we’re all strong at math, so I don’t really believe that. But, you know, these are the numbers. When you’re looking at those at the lowest levels of literacy for adults, level 1, it’s almost 20% of Canadians; so almost 1 in 5 Canadians are struggling significantly. They have middle school level levels of literacy, which makes it really hard to navigate and live a fully engaged life.

Laurie Edwards:

Yeah, when you think about those reading, writing, numeracy skills, those are your building blocks. That’s the Velcro to which all training can stick. And if you don’t have those skills, you can take as many courses as available to you, but the training won’t stick because you just don’t have that Velcro that will help you move forward with the training. So it’s not just at the low literacy levels; it’s so holistic.

Sandy MacDonald:

Yeah, it’s interesting Laurie and Mack to hear that, because just last week we sat around with the senior staff here. We were trying to determine, you know, given the limited dollars, if you had money and you were going to spend it on an invention, what would you spend it on? Because, you know, just talking to the 2 of you, you hear about the bandwidth and you hear about the technology, being able access technology, purchase technology, the issues around employment, gig economy. And one of the things that underline all of these issues was the fact that, we feel the biggest challenge facing our school, was literacy and numeracy of the students coming in, that even if they picked the right program, they don’t have the literacy skills and numeracy skills they need to be to be successful.

And that’s a good segue way into the essential skills. And I just want to focus a little bit on this, because when I hear this word, I laugh myself because I’ve been around the block a few times, as I know the both of you have. And when I hear the word essential, I start thinking of essential skills, soft skills, employability skills, verbal skills, 21st century skills and Laurie, your point; the Velcro, on which the technical skills sit. So we all know that skills have been a challenge for quite some time, but why are they important? Why should other Canadians know about them?

Laurie Edwards:

I always start, Sandy, with these are our skills around learning-how-to-learn skills. So, I think I mentioned about it being a scaffolding piece. And when I sit down with clients or people that are wanting to come to the college and perhaps they haven’t had an experience in school lately, you know, 10 years out of school, and if you don’t use the skill, you lose the skill. And so we start talking about their personal skills and some of the things that they use in terms of resilience and grit and how well they are in working with teams. Are they creative? Are they problem solvers? And so, we start with those personal things and then move from there into some of the things that we were just talking about, the reading, writing and numeracy.

And then my next check with people is usually around digital skills. And anyone who’s been doing any form of working or learning in the past year, you have to have some pretty sharp digital skills in order to manage yourself these days. You know, from everything from a doctor’s appointment to going to school, to buying things online. It’s, those are the sorts of skills that I highlight for our clients. And then from there we can start to say, Okay, now what are the other things that you want to learn and how can we scaffold onto those things, the important things that you want in order to pursue the life you want to live.

Sandy MacDonald:

So Laurie, are the people you work with, are they surprised when you talk this way about those skills? Do they recognize themselves that they have these skills or don’t have these skills?

Laurie Edwards:

Generally, yes. And I don’t know if maybe it’s an east-coast thing, Sandy, but I’m always surprised at how often people dismiss the skills that they have; they think it’s about the book learning and about what they achieved in high school. And can they do a written-quote commentary on something by Shakespeare? And really it isn’t and it’s those living skills. And when we start to break that down and I ask them to assess, when they think about their reading level, from 1 to 10, where do they think? And oftentimes they’ll say, oh, it’s about a 5. And yet when I get them to read a paragraph out of a book or document, really, it’s much higher than they thought it was and from there, there’s a kind of a confidence level that we can say, well, have you thought about some academic upgrading? And that way we can fine tune some of these skills that are so necessary for your future.

Sandy MacDonald:

And Mack, has that been your experience as well?

Mack Rogers:

Yeah, I mean, I think Laurie absolutely encapsulates what it is. I mean, it is the scaffolding. It’s the building blocks of all your other learning. But, it’s also how those skills interact with each other, both when you’re looking at the essential skills and the soft skills of the foundational skills, employability skills. So, for example, when you look at doing a simple transaction around financial literacy, the amount of skills, let’s say, to get a new credit card. The amount of skills in today’s day and age to get a new credit card is phenomenal. I mean, you need to understand the numeracy of what the interest rates are and competitive pricing and all that sort of thing. Nowadays, you need to do it online, so you need to have digital literacy. You need to have reading and writing because you need to be able to fill out the forms. You need to have the confidence to ask the questions. And then, at the end of it, you need to have the accountability to pay for the card that you select. So it’s the confidence is such an important part. And then, knowing where you’re strong or not. I mean, the best example you can get is any low literacy Canadian living with low literacy that you meet. So many of them are just phenomenal in their resilience. And they can be extremely successful. They can be, you know, professionally as well as personally, just so good at finding ways around their weaknesses. And I think that in itself is just an amazing thing to see.

Sandy MacDonald:

You know, in my previous life, I worked as a psychologist in the prison system, both the federal and provincial prison systems, and dealing with the disenfranchised. And I’d meet people with very poor developed literacy and numeracy skills as measured by textbook or tests, able to work and survive and thrive because they found ways to cope. And one of the things that I see that is most incapacitating to our people, young people I work with over the years and I met with a bunch yesterday, is this poverty of spirit. And Mack, I think you used the word confidence and Laurie you talked about resilience. Do you see that underlying psychological construct, confidence or resilience or poverty of spirit? Do you see that often? Is that something that both of you have experienced?

Mack Rogers:

Yeah, I mean, I think that absolutely, we see that in our classrooms. Often the people that end up in our classrooms have navigated that successfully and they have been able to walk into the classroom. That’s a difficult thing.

We’re hoping that now that’s one of the benefits of the pandemic, to sound kind of silly about that, the silver lining, is that people may get access to learning resources that are accessible to them. So ABC’s developed what we call our ABC Skills Hub, which is really about allowing low literacy learners to interact with online learning without the complicated systems that are so often where we learn. It’s a very simple, straightforward and accessible system. So we’re hoping that maybe people who were, didn’t have the confidence to start learning—to go into the colleges, to go into the classrooms—can maybe start their journey at home.

Laurie Edwards:

Yeah, Mack, I’d like to build on that because one of the other things that we’re seeing in an online environment that sometimes it is you’re presenting yourself in a different way so that you’re not being ashamed by being in a classroom, surrounded by others that you perceive are smarter than you. You’re there listening to the teacher. You’re using some other resources and tools, and you just get to be yourself without having all of those other layers of how people label you.

Sandy MacDonald:

Do you think that a silver lining in the virus might be that it turned some of these learners into more comfortable, more confident, more autonomous learners?

Mack Rogers:

I think it could really go either way, to be honest with you, Sandy. I think some people are going to be forced even into more vulnerable positions. I think with the right supports, with the right programs, with the right teachers, yeah, absolutely, this is going to allow people to start their journey. But it’s also at the same time, we’re talking about the learners. The work environment is changing rapidly at the same time. And so we’ve known automation is coming along for years now, but this has accelerated it. How many people do you know who are using more digital technology or using more automation to get work done, more systems in place, which is just more barriers. So a job that before may not have required digital literacy, all of a sudden, because of the pandemic, it’s mandatory. So I think that it’s kind of a balance; I worry about some people still getting left behind.

Sandy MacDonald:

I wonder, Laurie, and you in particular Mack too, have you found that there’s kind of a double-edged sword here to the pandemic where, the focus, the motivated learner kind of thrives and the one maybe not so motivated is getting left behind?

Laurie Edwards:

Well, you know, that’s been a bit of a surprise to me. And I think just like Mack said, there’s some positives and negatives that there’s some that are going to be super successful and others that aren’t. And I’ve been quite surprised by some of our students that have attention deficit and they love that online schedule because they can get rid of all those other external influences as they’re sitting there in front of the computer interacting with the teacher.

But, and I have other high performing students that are saying, I hate this. I want to come back, I want to do the applied, I want to do the hands-on work that we did last year in class here at NSCC. And so it’s a mix of both. And I’m really, it’s about engagement and relationship-building. And I think any institution these days, you know, I know at NSCC we are investing heavily in our teaching and learning faculty and helping them with the skills about how to better do that online engagement so that it can reach the reluctant learner straight through to the high performing learner with and it really truly is about engagement and relationship-building.

Sandy MacDonald:

I just want to switch gears a little bit here, because we all deal with the same sorts of challenges. I want to talk a minute about post-secondary graduates, so the kids coming out of high school and then the ones coming out of our own systems.

Do you feel, Laurie and Mack, that kids coming out of our colleges, have, let’s say, the social and emotional and soft skills that they need to be successful?

Mack Rogers:

I think we’d have to say no. And it’s not me saying that—I think there’s a lot of amazing people—but the employers that have been surveyed over the last few years are saying no, that they’re missing some significant skills, skills that we don’t talk about enough. So we’re talking about, like you say, the social emotional skills. You know, and it’s things like time management and stress management and accountability, those kind of what we often call employability skills. And I think talking about skills and including these employability skills is really important because it gives us a language, basically a vocabulary we can share and identify and say, hey, this is something you need to work on, you need to understand. This is what accountability looks like and this is what accountability sounds like. And our friends on the east coast, the organization Future Works, does an amazing job of defining what each of these skills is and then helping people who may be, because we all have, you know, deficits and assets and our skills, kind of identify and create the conversation that allows people to say, hey, this is something I can work on. This is something I can improve on. And on the other side, hey, this is something I’m really good at and this is something I should celebrate and people should celebrate about me.

Laurie Edwards:

Yeah, I think our employers, they want students that they want their workforce to be able to learn easily and quickly. They want their workforce to be adaptable and flexible, to be able to take direction to work as part of a team, to be able to critically think through a problem. But I know this is a bit of a funny story. I had somebody that knows that I work for the college and he hires tradespeople and he said, why can’t you teach them how to put their cell phones away? And I said, well, we do try. And we rely on our industry partners when they have their field placements and their internships to encourage those sorts of behaviours. So it is one of those points that it’s the everyday living skills and bringing those into a workforce. And what’s going to make you a productive worker for the employer.

Sandy MacDonald:

These skills often are very subtle, as you know, with things like interpersonal skills and Mack talked about a few of them, the accountability, some basic work habits—these things are not easy to teach and not easy to assess. And I think that it’s a struggle sometimes for post-secondary institutions, colleges and universities to say this is what we do. We feel here that, and I think another college acknowledges there is a degree, that sometimes these skills are best taught in tandem, in collaboration with the industry.

Laurie Edwards:

It’s a really exciting proposition, Sandy, to think that, you know, we can engage our employer and partners and our industry partners to help us deliver on the learning outcomes of these programs. And I know it’s about rewriting some of the curriculum pieces and the competencies so that it just doesn’t look at those hard core technical skills, that we start to think about a competent worker in many ways; that problem-solving, communication, collaboration and teamwork and critical thinking and innovation and creativity. I think that that’s a shared responsibility between our colleges, universities and our employer community.

Sandy MacDonald:

One good example is in our paramedic program. We’ve got a well developed assessment process, that looks at essentially the bedside manner of the paramedics. So they can do all the technical skills very well; this is also a critical component that measures your interpersonal skills, your ability to work with—because there’s always 2 people in an ambulance, for example. And we found that it’s almost impossible to assess properly and teach properly without industry being directly involved. So it’s a joint assessment rather than a college assessment. And we extrapolate from that to the rest of our programs and realize, wow, this is what the industry needs, if this is what our students really need to be successful and thrive, then we’re remiss in not teaching that. And that means instead of adding a workplace integrated-learning piece on the end of our 2-year program for 6 weeks or so, and it might be better to have them out in industry earlier for shorter periods of time and then give them constant feedback from industry and ourselves. So far, it’s in the initial stages, but so far it seems to be working well, so we think that might be better.

While we’re on this topic, we talk about the employer a lot and the employee. Are there things we should be asking government to do differently, in terms of supporting this initiative?

Mack Rogers:

We need kind of a national, recognized way of measuring every skill that employers, professors and educators think, these are important skills to learn to be successful in life. And be that creativity and innovation or be it literacy, if we don’t have a way to measure it, it’s really hard to see if anything is getting done. So I think that’s something the government can really support the nation on. I also think it’s about raising awareness of the importance of skills.

If you think about where we were 10 years ago in mental wellness and even the language we used in speaking about mental health, it was nothing like today, right? We didn’t talk about it at our boardroom tables. We didn’t talk about it in our dining room tables. And now, it’s much more comfortable conversation. We’ve really brought it out into the sunlight and it helps us navigate the world, particularly with a pandemic going on, where we have a lot of anxiety and tension and stress and change and we can actually talk about it. So I think creating a language, creating a vocabulary and awareness and how to use that language around skill development is really something the government and industry and education can all get together on.

Laurie Edwards:

Yeah, we have financial literacy, why not have career literacy?

Mack Rogers:

Exactly.

Sandy MacDonald:

We’ve known there’s a skills gap. We’ve known there’s great potential here. But there’s also a great challenge here, what’s getting in the way? You know, how would you explain it to a layperson that we haven’t been able to make much progress in the last decade?

Laurie Edwards:

Well, that’s such a great question, because it’s one of those dinner table conversations that I often encourage a family to have. And even when you invite people over to your own house for dinner and you the subject of jobs comes up and you say, Okay, name ten 10 jobs for me. People can usually say what they do, their spouse does, maybe a couple of other occupations that they’ve interacted with lately. But, you know, once they get to number 10, they can’t seem to go beyond that. So, knowledge of the world of work is extremely limited to whoever’s in your circle and wherever you live. So, I think that’s sort of the first piece, is that information about all the different occupations that are out there. There are new and growing occupations every day. And how many, how often we don’t expose people to those different job roles and their knowledge of them. So how would I even know to go to university or to college and sign up for artificial intelligence courses or web design, if I’ve never experienced it or been exposed to it. So I think it’s kind of that information gap, is that first step. It’s how do we get this information in a way that’s written and understandable, digestible and engaging, so that people can read about it, think about it, talk to people about it, and then make a decision about that’s the type of training or that’s the job that I want my future.

Mack Rogers:

I absolutely agree, but I think it’s also about making sure we help people match their strengths with the labour market information that is about the job. So finding a way that matches the 2 types of language we use around labour market and skills much more closely. So you could actually look at a wheel of skills and say, you know, this forestry job, it’s really I need it on these all these different levels. I mean, I need to work on my, my oral communication a little bit, but everything else is good—so this is a good pathway for me. So being able to self assess and assess the skill all within one wheel of conversation, to use a really awkward metaphor.

I think it also goes back to what Laurie was talking about, like people could only name 10 jobs, so they don’t really know where they’re going. And, they end up, you know, often following, sometimes that’s great, following the path of their parents or their close their mentors. But it’s also about making career choices and skills for careers part of your whole life. That’s my feeling, is that we should be talking about jobs and not what other people do, but what you could do and what right from the very beginning of education and family and giving people choices and letting them know the implications of those choices. Like, you know, people are going to choose to be disinterested or struggle with school and they may need to take a break or mature later, but still understand what the implications of their decisions are in terms of career opportunities. You can’t drop or not take math, and then expect to become an architect; understanding those types of things are really important. So I think that we need to match knowledge with aspiration because aspiration that, you know, maybe the optimist in me, I think, is going to drive more skill development.

Laurie Edwards:

There’s intrinsic motivators and there’s extrinsic motivators—the notion of I want a job with this amount of salary, versus that intrinsic peace—I’m really good at this; I have done these things in my life; this is where I see my myself going—that’s that aspirational piece. And then matching it up with that labour market information piece—about well then, What’s out there? How much will I earn? Where can I live? What skills will I use? So I think what we have to do is help people decide.

I’m thinking about the Michelin worker. And, you know, I was thinking in some career counseling about the life that they wanted to live. And they said, well, you know, the job that I have here is doing routine, same thing every day. But I also know how long my workday is. And I get to pursue the other things in my life: my family, my friends, my church, my community groups, volunteer and all of that. And I think it’s redefining when we talk about career, it’s redefining it that it’s not just about the occupational you, it’s about the learning you, the community you, the family you—it’s combining all of those. And that’s what makes up a career as opposed to just thinking about the occupational you all the time.

Sandy MacDonald:

Despite our initial analysis, I think we got a good chat in. And I want to thank you for your time Laurie and Mack. It’s been really enjoyable. And I can’t wait to meet both of you face to face and I think we owe the both of you a glass of wine. If you’re ever over in PEI, I’ll take you to our culinary institute and I’ll treat you to a whole dinner.

Laurie Edwards:

As soon as the bubble opens, I can guarantee you, Sandy, I will be in PEI to benefit from that great tourism industry you have there. And Mack, you’re more than welcome to join us in September.

Mack Rogers:

I cannot wait. I look forward to seeing you. Thank you so much.

Sandy MacDonald:

Thanks again, I really enjoyed my time.

Mack Rogers:

Thank you.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on helping Canadians make informed decisions on skills development, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 70.3 MB) Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

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