Future Skills initiative should focus on needs of workers

Hospitality members at Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre win gainsToronto – March 18, 2019 – In the age of automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics, we know that new and emerging technologies are impacting every aspect of Canadians’ lives, particularly the workplace. These disruptive forces are changing the skills needed to succeed at work and are also shaping the way people develop their skills to adapt to an increasingly digital economy.

To ensure that workers are not left behind in a changing labour market, UFCW Canada has called on all levels of government to work with unions, businesses, and other stakeholders to find innovative ways to support skills development and help Canadians better prepare for the new world of work.

Now, thanks to the advocacy of UFCW Canada and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the federal government has stepped up to the plate by announcing a Future Skills initiative aimed at addressing skills gaps in the job market and supporting lifelong training throughout Canadians’ working lives.

The program includes a Future Skills Council that will identify and recommend priorities for skills development to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour, as well as a Future Skills Centre that will act as a research hub for developing and testing cutting-edge approaches to skills development. The initiative is being supported with an investment of $225 million over four years, and $75 million thereafter, and the Council is currently conducting consultations with interested stakeholders across Canada.

UFCW welcomes this program, as our union recognizes that virtually every profession – whether you are a doctor, accountant, factory worker, or retail grocery clerk – could be impacted by automation over the coming years. But if the new world of work is to be defined rather than imposed, we cannot allow automation and artificial intelligence to be job- and community-destructive, and we must ensure that workers’ voices help shape the future of work and inform our priorities for skills development.

As the voice of workers in rapidly growing sectors of the economy like agri-food, which accounts for 1 in 8 jobs in Canada, UFCW believes that workers must be heavily engaged in the Future Skills consultations, and the needs of working people should be at the forefront of any strategies we undertake to help retrain today’s workforce and minimize displacement in the job market.

Additionally, the government should seriously consider partnering with unions, educational institutions, and businesses to meet the training, education, and apprenticeship needs of the future economy. Indeed, UFCW Canada is an ideal partner to assist with retraining, as our union already delivers one of the most comprehensive online skills training programs in the country. 

In the face of growing technological change at work, the government should be commended for acting to help Canadians prepare for the new economy. To have a meaningful impact, though, the Future Skills initiative must put the needs of workers and their families first.