March 26, 2018 1:34 pm
Updated: March 26, 2018 2:35 pm

Half of Canadian jobs will be impacted by automation in next 10 years

Oxford researchers found the jobs most at-risk from automation require repetitive tasks, which is why it placed telemarketers, tax-preparers, and insurance underwriters atop the endangered species list.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Cossio
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Automation will likely affect over half of Canadian jobs in the next decade, but being human could be the very thing that helps Canadians stay employed, a new RBC report claims.

“There will be more jobs in the future, not less. But, the skills required are going to change significantly,” explained RBC’s senior vice president John Stackhouse.

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While Canada’s economy is on track to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, virtually all of them will require a different set of skills than young people are currently learning. According to the study, a growing demand for “human skills” will be more crucial across job sectors.

In particular, critical thinking, coordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem solving — described in the report as “human skills” — were identified as being key characteristics Canadians should develop to prepare for changes to the workforce.

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“You might have what it takes to do your job today, but you might not have what it takes in five or 10 years to do the same job,” Stackhouse said.

Sean Mullin, the executive director of the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, agrees that there are some skills that machine learning technology simply can’t replace.

“The types of things that are really hard for machines to replace are creativity, human judgment, people management, etc,” he said.

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Four million young Canadians will be entering the job market over the next decade, and it’s crucial that they’re able to develop cross-transferable skills that can be applied to multiple professions as these changes continue to take shape.

“It’s really important for people to understand our skills and the strengths that we have. Most jobs require 30 to 35 skills and people don’t often understand what is required and what their skills are,” said Stackhouse.

The report also goes on to state that while many expect the future to be full of programmers, “digital literacy” will often be enough to sustain Canadians as the workplace moves towards automation.

While employers and educational institutions may not be prepared for these changes at the moment, Mullin states that schools and workplaces have an opportunity to work together to ensure students are prepared.

“To learn things like communication skills, judgment, creativity, you get that through experiences,” said Mullin, who added that co-op placements are a great way for students to acquire the kinds of “human skills” they’ll need to thrive.

The narrative around automation and artificial intelligence in the workforce has largely been a negative one, with Canadians being concerned about becoming unemployed without the chance to develop new skills. However, RBC’s report emphasizes that while there may be some turnover in the interim, automation technology will largely create more new jobs than it wipes out.

“Technology for centuries has disrupted jobs, but it’s also been the single greatest creator of jobs,” said Mullin.

The challenge, he says, is ensuring that the skills of the workforce will coincide with the skills these new positions will demand.

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