The Future of Work and Learning Brief
Issue 36 | July 2023

What disruptions are affecting the labour market? Which skills and competencies are required for new and evolving jobs? How can people and institutions adapt to the future of work and learning? Through this monthly brief, keep on top of developments in the workforce and how education and training are changing today to build the skills and competencies needed for the future. Priority will go to stories focused on Western Canada. If you know of something relevant and want to send for inclusion in the next brief, email .

Wildfire workforce development

The Canada West Foundation’s latest North America brief touched on the challenges of finding workers and volunteers to fight wildfires. Given the urgency of the wildfire issue, the Human Capital Centre thought we would continue the thread from a different perspective. 

B.C.’s Thompson-Nichola Regional District (TNRD) will use $700,000 in grants received this year to fund 10 community wildfire resiliency plans and also hire a full-time FireSmart Coordinator. FireSmart coordinators provide public education and community events to support the public to mitigate fire risks.  

Helicopter and plane pilots are integral to firefighting efforts however pilot shortages have hampered efforts. The aircraft and tools required for firefighting require different levels of knowledge and expertise which can be lost as older pilots retire. Pilots can also be deterred from the profession by the seasonality of wildfire work, choosing instead other emergency and medical flight employment such as search and rescue. To retain employees, Erickson Aviation uses internal training and advancement in addition to competitive wages and benefits, but this training approach is not standard across the sector. See this AirMed & Rescue article for more on the challenges of recruiting wildfire pilots.   

In Australia, community-based programs train firies,” volunteers who live in rural communities, to fight fires. Provincial governments are looking at how similar models could be used within the Canadian context. Indigenous communities are also looking to integrate traditional knowledge into wildfire practices and management, such as controlled burns. The B.C. government and ʔaq’am Nation partnered on a controlled burn of 1,200 hectares in April which was seen as successful.   

Healthier, safer workplaces

For those who work outdoors, wildfire smoke can be hazardous. Wendy Irwin with Bright HR recently posted on the Canadian Occupational Safety website some emergency preparedness and proactive measures that employers can take to protect their workers this season. Monitoring the status and location of wildfires is important, as is paying attention to severe storms and lightning which can spark fires.  Employees benefit when companies have emergency plans in place to deal with wildfires and the ensuing smoke. Irwin suggests employers inform their workers about smoke-related symptoms, such as nausea and dizziness, and provide opportunities for workers to get indoors and out of the smoke.  

Extreme heat stress can take a mental and physical toll on workers which can affect productivity and also lead to more accidents. Similar to posting precautions around smoke inhalation, Irwin suggests employers help workers to recognize the symptoms and impacts of overheating and encourage breaks in the shade or indoors.    

For workers who do not have mental health benefits in their workplaces or those who have fixed or low incomes, Saskatchewan provides a Rapid Access Counselling Program, which was recently expanded to youth and children. Megz Reynolds with The Do More Agriculture Foundation spoke to Global Saskatchewan about the new AgTalk peer-support platform, powered by Togetherall, for farmers and other agricultural workers in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada. Reynolds underscored the importance of reducing the stigma around mental health in the sector.  

In Alberta, a recent survey on incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace has spurred the creation of a new website to support workers to understand and report sexual harassment. Of the 509 Albertans surveyed by RA2 Research and the Alberta-based Workers Resource Centre, 49 per cent said that they had experienced harassment in the workplace while 61 per cent said that they had witnessed an incidence of harassment. Only 11 per cent had reported the harassment to a supervisor while seven per cent had reported it to Human Resources.  

Health and tech

Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton is the first in Alberta to use new technology to detect Canada’s fifth most common cancer, bladder cancer. The tool called Cysview can increase the detection rate by 40 per cent in specific populations and allows for immediate tissue sampling for biopsy. There are hopes that the technology could reduce recurrence and survival rates for bladder cancer and also be adapted for other types of cancer.  

Residents at Elmview Long-Term Care Home in Regina now have access to VR headsets, iPads, laptops and an interactive projector called The Obie. The new technology is used to combat isolation and increase mental simulation and can be a useful tool for recreational therapists and others who work in long-term care.  

A University of Manitoba research project on digital health solutions for Elders in Pimicikamak Cree Nation has received $50,000 in funding. The project is rooted in Indigenous knowledge and community collaboration. A telepresence robot placed in the local health centre provides information on telehealth and allows for community feedback. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) speech recognition and analysis is being used to support health and wellness. Kids Help Phone has turned to AI to help meet increased demand for youth mental health support. The AI recognizes key words and speech patterns to help counsellors best distinguish the needs of the callers. Alberta researchers have also used speech analysis to develop an early Alzheimer’s detection tool. The machine-learning model listens for pauses, word length/complexity, intelligibility, and patterns linked to Alzheimer’s.   

Access to post-secondary education

During an address at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reinforced Canada’s ongoing support for Ukraine and its citizens. This support includes funding for students in post-secondary education in Saskatchewan. Students can access education with fewer financial barriers, for example, paying domestic tuition without incurring international fees or costs. This opportunity is open to individuals who have come to Saskatchewan under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program.   

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in British Colombia offers free tuition to incoming and current students who are members of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Musqueam, Tsawwassen, Qayqayt, and Kwikwetlem First Nations. KPU chancellor Kim Baird wishes all universities and post-secondary institutions offered free tuition for indigenous students but says KPU is building local connections and community.    

With the hopes of making post-secondary education more affordable for students, the Alberta government has increased itsAlberta Student Grant. The annual grant maximum jumped from $3,000 to $5,700 per year. Additionally, adjustments to student loans have been made by the government. They include reducing interest rates on Alberta loans to the prime rate and the extension of the interest-free grace period from six to 12 months.  

Other News

  • Efforts to attract high school students to agriculture jobs in Saskatchewan received a boost this week with a partnership announced between the provincial government, the Saskatchewan Distance Learning Centre and the North American Equipment Dealers Association. The partnership will see grants for distance learning in agricultural courses, including Agricultural Equipment Technician and Parts Technician and the roll out of a Precision Agriculture course. 
  • BCTEN, an alliance of not-for-profit innovation hubs, was recently launched to support sector collaboration and support for those looking to start, scale up and grow their businesses.  
  • By the end of 2025, teachers and educators across Manitoba will have completed treaty education as part of a Government of Manitoba effort to ensure “students and staff understand the importance of the original intent spirit and intent of treaties,” Global News reports. Students in K-12 will receive similar education. 

The Future of Work & Learning Brief is compiled by Stephany Laverty, Janet Lane, and Abygail Montague. 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 .