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Policy & Research

The Future of Work and Learning Brief

October 13, 2023

This article was originally published by the Canada West Foundation at:

The common language of competency

Our latest report by Jeff Griffiths and Janet Lane, Matching People with Jobs and Jobs with People, offers recommendations to help all players in the labour market, including job seekers, employers and learning providers, communicate more effectively using the language of competencies – the skills, knowledge and attributes required to do jobs well.

CWF and others advocate for apprenticeship reform

Janet Lane and Lin Al-Akkad’s op-ed in the Edmonton Journal makes the case for apprenticeship-style learning to help address skills shortages across many sectors, not just the skilled trades. Apprenticeships could take more of a German-style approach which allows students to begin apprenticeships while in high school.

A partnership between Northern Lights College (NLC) and Dawson Creek Secondary School in northern B.C. is one example of how high school apprenticeships work. The dual credit program for Grade 12 students allows participants to learn foundational skills for the enhanced carpentry foundation program at NLC by building a house under supervision. Students can then enhance those skills in post-secondary education.

Stephany Laverty’s landscape paper with the Bush Institute and North American Strategic Competitiveness Organization (NASCO) examines the current apprenticeship system across Canada, the United States and Mexico. The paper finds that North American credentials could be one solution to support workers to move from areas where there are shortages of jobs and opportunities to regions experiencing labour shortages. A complementary paper from the Bush Institute and NASCO proposes a pilot program for such a credential in the manufacturing and logistics sectors.

Labour shortages persist

In the latest contract with B.C. Ferries, the B.C. government included penalties for missed core sailings after labour shortages and mechanical issues resulted in cancelled trips in 2023. Of the cancelled sailings, 1,163 or 40 per cent were due to labour challenges, double the number in 2022. After April 2024, if B.C. Ferries cancels a sailing of a major route, the fine could be $7,000 while a minor route could be $1,000.

As the Calgary region faces rapid growth due to interprovincial and international migration, Frano Cavar with the Calgary Construction Association recently told the CBC that a severe labour shortage could impede necessary construction. Cavar says, “This isn’t a problem that just came overnight, this is a problem over the last two, three decades, and our message is if there isn’t any action on the labour shortage, we worry it will certainly impact housing affordability.” Jim Szautner with SAIT also told the CBC that enrolments are up in construction-related skilled trades.

Jordan Ewart with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce recently wrote about the risk of labour shortages to the province’s economy even as the economy thrives and reached a record breaking $52 billion in exports in 2022. Ewart underscores that labour shortage impacts on the province’s reputation and production capacity could hurt the province’s economic potential. The Saskatchewan government’s upcoming mission to Poland will include a workforce attraction element to encourage individuals to consider moving to Saskatchewan for work and economic opportunity.

For the first time, the Canadian government has opened its express entry program to agricultural workers, those who work in agri-food and transport workers. The program would allow those with such experience to directly apply for permanent residency. The move is intended to address serious labour shortages in both sectors. Although Canada has ramped up efforts to attract newcomers, there are concerns that the country is failing to retain immigrants because of workforce barriers, such as credential recognition and cost of living.

AI’s expanding role in Canada

Sectors, such as manufacturing, look to AI to help address labour shortages and streamline existing workflows with employers and educators adapting to help workers build AI skills.

According to a report from Toronto Metropolitan University’s public policy institute, four percent of Canadian businesses say that they use AI. In the west, B.C. and Saskatchewan businesses reflect the national average, while three per cent of Albertan business and two percent of Manitoban businesses report that they use AI.

Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, could increase the Canadian economy by $210 billion, suggests a report from Google. The report also finds generative AI could save the average Canadian worker over 100 hours a year and 34 per cent of employers plan to invest in generative AI within the next five years.

The University of Alberta is offering Canada’s first non-technical AI course, Artificial Intelligence Everywhere. Catering to all undergraduate academic disciplines, the course focuses on teaching AI literacy. Calgary’s SaaS (software as a service) company, MakeShift, and San Francisco’s AI software development company, Ikigai Labs, are creating an AI-powered workforce scheduling platform, ShiftMateai. The initiative targets industries like healthcare and retail which, as MakeShift CEO writes, “…are burdened by severe labor shortages and the relentless weight of employee burnout, leading to a scheduling crisis of significant magnitude.”

Saskatchewan’s SuperGeo A.I. launched Grain Grading, an app developed to help farmers grade grain quality. The app is designed to automate time consuming tasks, eliminate grading subjectivity and maximize profit.

AI regulatory landscape

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada introduced a voluntary code of conduct for developers and managers of advanced generative AI systems. It encourages signatories to prioritize accountability, safety, fairness and equity, transparency, human oversight and monitoring, and validity and robustness. Read business reactions to the voluntary code of conduct here.

The European Union’s AI Act classifies AI systems based on their risk level. Those considered as unacceptable risk are banned, while high, limited and minimal risk systems face different degrees of regulation. For a full explanation, read here.

In contrast, Japan embraces a “soft law” strategy for AI oversight, seeking to balance innovation with regulation. Instead of introducing restrictive measures, Japan prefers to lean on existing laws, such as those concerning data privacy. For more on other countries, such as Brazil, China and Israel, read here.

Other News

  • Electricity Human Resources Canada and the Government of Alberta are launching peer learning communities for industry HR representatives to share best practices and problem solve labour shortages together.
  • Forbes recently highlighted Saskatchewan-based Nutrien’s efforts to bring its workforce together through “a smarter, inclusive intranet.” The intranet, called “geo,” connects the company’s global workforce of 500,000 employees to build and enhance a digital, corporate culture and allow cross-company collaboration.
  • Four Canadian Senators have partnered on a report entitled Strengthening the Integrity of Canada’s International Student Program. Recommendations for federal and provincial/territorial governments include a national language standard for admissions, improvements to the letter of authorization process, tuition regulations, and regulations on recruitment practices.

The Future of Work & Learning Brief is compiled by Stephany Laverty, Janet Lane, and Ethan Johnson. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to

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