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Why building digital skills for Canadians is important

The recent pandemic has only widened Canada's skills gap, and shows us why now it's more important than ever to build our country's digital skills.

Where are we?

Canada’s economy is in a funny place right now. Despite concerns over inflation and rising interest rates, the number of available jobs in Canada is at an all-time high. This so-called vacancy rate is the result of a number of factors, including an aging population, industry shifts, and pent-up demand. Additionally, the recent pandemic widened the country’s already substantial skills gap, revealing that now more than ever,  it’s important to invest in building skills to maintain our global competitive edge.

According to recent statistics, Canada’s labour market remains tight, which simply means that that there aren’t enough people in the labour force to fill the number of jobs that are being offered. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, there were nearly a million unfilled jobs in the third quarter of 2022.

Let’s look at some of the reasons behind this tight labour market, and see what it means for the economy, and for you.

We’ve known for some time that Canada’s workforce is aging, with more data from Statistics Canada showing that 1 in 5 Canadian workers are now at least 55 years old, and what’s more, a record number of these older workers are deciding to retire.

Add to this the fact that with record inflation, wages are failing to match worker’s expectations. As a result, many Canadians are leaving low-skill, low wage occupations, and are ready to embark on careers that offer greater rewards, when they can find them, and if they have the right skills.

Do Canadian workers have enough skills?

The evidence shows that Canada has a digital skills gap of significant proportions. Businesses in Canada and the rest of the world are increasingly reliant on digital connectivity, with forecasts telling us that by 2026, digital literacy will be essential for nine out of every 10 occupations in the country.

Research conducted for the Global Digital Skills Index shows that, on a global scale that measures workforce readiness to use digital technologies, Canada’s index score of 23 was lower than the global average of 33. The same research found that four out of five Canadians (81%) said they did not have access to the tools they needed to acquire digital literacy.

If these numbers weren’t serious enough, a study conducted by Deloitte has illuminated a lack of “digital equity” when it comes to participation in the digital world. The effect of this uneven digital equity goes well beyond a simple rural/urban divide, with the same study arguing that the lack of digital equity has a significant impact on equity-denied and marginalized groups. The report goes on to advocate that Canadian policymakers better support digital skills education across the country.

Just the digital skills gap alone has ramifications throughout the economy, slowing productivity and growth in a variety of sectors, from health care and construction, to manufacturing and even the transport sector, including moving services.

Other examples of the gap might surprise you. The so-called millennial generation makes up 33.2% of Canada’s working-age population, but as many as 40% of workers in this age group report that they do not feel confident about their digital readiness for the work world. Clearly, there are other generational differences, too. Research suggests that in 2022, only 8% of Canadian baby boomers were engaged in learning new digital skills.

Now is the time

We’ve argued before that now is a vital time for Canada—and Canadians—to invest in building skills. Canada’s workers need the tools to navigate the current unusual labour market conditions, and the ones to come. Canada has much of the infrastructure in place in order to grow its innovation economy, but catastrophic events like the pandemic or the war in Ukraine have shown how vulnerable our traditional ways of doing things are. A skilled, nimble workforce is going to be a key part of our country’s innovation future, and upskilling programs like the ones offered by Palette Skills are showing the way.

For decades, the traditional professional path for skills development was to attend college or university, and find a job that made it possible to advance within the same company until retirement age. Times have changed, and our strategies for building workforce skills have to change, too. Lifelong learning and constant workforce upskilling is the key to helping Canada’s economy—and people—thrive. 

Want to know more about our approach to upskilling? Learn about our programs here.

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