Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office to announce new investments to improve transit in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Internal government documents show federal officials are working through the summer to come up with the right policies so whoever forms the next government can help the country rightly, and quickly, adjust to a shifting economic landscape. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Behind-the-scenes work on skills policy detailed in election-tinged documents

Staffers are getting ready for the fall election and the prospect of a new party taking power

Top civil servants have been told that their departments don’t know what the jobs of the future will look like and that employers’ demands for skills will change more and more frequently in the years to come

The admission is in voluminous material prepared for deputy ministers as they get ready for the fall election and the prospect of a new party taking power or the Liberals’ being re-elected with new priorities.

A series of briefing notes and detailed, lengthy presentations show that much of the work for the next government is already well underway and more than 100 policy ideas at various levels of ambition have been generated since October 2018. A subset of them, chosen and tweaked to match the winning party’s declared agenda, will be presented to the new government after the election.

In the meantime, the details have been blacked out from the documents because they are considered sensitive advice to government.

But what comes through in the documents is that although federal officials have grappled for years with how to limit the disruption to workers’ lives in the transition to a more digital economy, just what Canada might do is still a little fuzzy.

This is also despite the fact the Liberals’ pre-election budget put aside more than $1.7 billion over five years to create a tax credit and pay for dedicated time off for workers to take skills-training programs, starting next year.

The lack of detail isn’t surprising to Sean Hinton, chief executive of SkyHive, a B.C.-based company that uses artificial intelligence to identify just what skills workers need for different jobs — which aren’t always what employers or employees think they are.

Governments keep thinking in terms of what jobs will be automated and which ones will be short of workers, which creates a disconnect in crafting skills-training programs, Hinton said.

By looking instead at skills that the economy needs, rather than what jobs need to be filled, policy-makers could design more useful skills-training programs, he said.

“One thing we can be proud of is we are having the discussion,” Hinton said.

“There are a lot of countries in the world that are not having this discussion and the impact on their economies and societies is going to be profound because things are going to change so rapidly and they’re not going to be prepared for it.”

The presentation to deputy ministers says that fewer than five per cent of occupations might eventually be fully automated, turning workers who hold those jobs now out into the street.

At the same time, up to 10 per cent of new occupations will require new workers, but “those people who lose their jobs to automation would not be a match” for the “new high-tech jobs created,” reads one of the documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the access-to-information law.

The speed at which this will all happen is unclear, but Hinton suggested the policy talk might have to move faster depending on what sector the government is looking at.

He pointed to studies suggesting just over half the workforce will need some form of re-skilling by 2022. The government has to keep ahead of those needs, he said, using the coal sector as an example as federal policy shifts to renewable energy resources.

“This issue is not an issue of economics solely. This issue is an issue of society, it’s an issue of families, it’s an issue of dignity and people’s contributions to communities,” he said. People need to be prepared for change before it hits, not after.

“In support of those people, we can’t be doing that in three years and we should have been doing that a long time ago.”

His company has caught the attention of tech giants south of the border and government officials in Ottawa because of its work to assesses skills changes in real-time using artificial intelligence — a nod to concerns that federal data on the job market might not be current enough for individuals as they make decisions about their futures.

“The government has pretty solid labour-market information as it relates to job-level movements and trends, today or historically, but with new technology what we’re able to do is actually go much more granular to the actual movements that are happening within those jobs,” Hinton said.

“The question is, is the policy work and the strategy work being predicated on job-level analysis or is it being predicated on real-time analysis?”

ALSO READ: PM’s official residence becoming a costly ‘debacle,’ say Conservatives

ALSO READ: Court orders Elections Canada to review moving voting day over religious worries

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

City of Parksville rejected sharps disposal containers from Island Health

Mayor says cost of maintaining boxes too much for city

Parksville hopes ‘cookies and carols’ become annual holiday tradition

Free, all-ages community event set for next month

Nine animals find fur-ever homes after special Parksville SPCA event

Province-wide half-price adoption deal homes 212 animals

Man, 50, dies following incident in downtown Parksville

Teenage girl hailed as hero for intervening after witnessing situation unfold

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

Abbotsford police chief mulls more enforcement of homeless lawbreakers

‘When all else has failed we have to hold people accountable,’ Police Chief Mike Serr tells council

Striking Vancouver hotel workers, employer reach ‘tentative’ agreement

Employees of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia have been out at picket lines since talks broke off on Sept. 21

Environmental and animal rights activists chain themselves to front doors of Kelowna bank

The group is protesting Interior Savings Credit Union’s support of Kelowna Ribfest

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

Cell phone tickets worse tax grab than speed limits, SenseBC says

Distracted driving statistics questioned as B.C. tickets pile up

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Fisherman missing near Lake Cowichan’s Shaw Creek

Family is asking for everyone and anyone to keep their eyes open,… Continue reading

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

Most Read