The Future of Work and Learning Brief
Issue 43 | February 2024

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 . 

Systemic changes to international student system 

In January, the federal government announced a two-year cap on the number of study permits issued to international students. Allocations to the provinces are based on population but the allocation to each province is still unknown. It’s estimated there will be a 35 per cent drop in the number of visas issued in 2024 compared to 2023. Along with the caps were changes to the application system. Alex Usher, CEO of Higher Education Strategies, wrote an analysis that finds the changes add another step to the application process by bringing provincial governments into the process. In the old system, students found an institution and then applied to the federal government for a visa. Now students must find an institution, apply to the provincial government for a letter of attestation and then to the feds for a visa.  Usher adds that these changes are effectively “asking provinces to re-build an airplane while it is in flight” and that students “caught in the net” while these changes are made could be permanently lost along with their tuition dollars.  

Other experts anticipate challenges in determining eligibility and anticipate a trickle-down effect meaning higher international student tuition, fewer international students at smaller institutions, and fewer international student applications. Advocates are calling for the federal government to lift work hour caps permanently so students can earn more amidst these and other changes 

At the provincial level, B.C. announced changes primarily focused on quality controls and compliance standards at private colleges who recruit international students. Okanagan College President Neil Fassina says that his college is “very much in support” of the provincial changes as they address “ethicality, fair treatment and overall, really strong support for students from outside Canada.”  

Employment equity data 

The federal government’s new Equi’Vision employment equity tool compiles annual data from federally regulated private-sector businesses with over 100 employees. The tool shows wage gaps and compares workforce representation of women, Indigenous peoples, those with disabilities and visible minorities. The data shows a mean hourly wage gap of 10 per cent for women, nine per cent for Indigenous peoples, 7.5 per cent for visible minorities and five per cent for those with disabilities. 

Charitable organization’s national survey of 500 Indigenous people sheds new light on Indigenous experiences in the IT sector. Almost 60 per cent of respondents said that they had “experienced discrimination in their current workplaces” and 56 per cent said that they had “played down their Indigenous backgrounds ‘to fit in better at the workplace.’” KPMG’s latest survey of Black Canadians finds that while improvements have been made, “eight in 10 Black Canadians say they are still facing some form of racism or microaggression at work.” The third edition of the annual survey also finds that “83 per cent of Black Canadians feel valued and respected in the same way as their non-Black colleagues, an increase of five per cent over last year and nine per cent since 2022. But 78 per cent said they also have to work much harder than their non-Black colleagues to be recognized, an increase of eight per cent over last year.”   

AI & U 

AI developments happen quickly and it can be hard for leaders and policymakers to stay up to date. This new feature section will help you (and us) track the latest AI tech developments and policies of relevance to Western Canada. 

Policy lags while deals inked

Yoshua Bengio, scientific director at Mila, the Quebec AI Institute, told the House of Commons Industry Committee that Canada is “not ready” for upcoming advancements in AI and that legislation is needed now. Dr. Natalia Stakhanova, Canada Research Chair in Security and Privacy and an associate professor of computer science at the University of Saskatchewan, says that concerns over AI are “understandable. Right now, it’s a Wild West and really there’s almost no regulations in place.” Stakhanova adds that “having conversations around AI is a good first step but we are definitely behind regulating this technology. [Using] AI will bring us huge benefits but without controls, it can also be destructive.” B.C. is the latest province to address deepfake pornography through intimate image laws. In B.C., a civil resolution tribunal will allow individuals to have real or deepfake images removed and pursue damages. Chinook Edge School Division in Central Alberta is developing a district-wide AI policy to be rolled out for the 2024/2025 school year. 

While policymakers and leaders weigh the risks and benefits of AI, national and subnational deals to advance Canada’s AI sector are being made. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, signed a Letter of Intent with NVIDIA to enhance Canadian computing capacity. The Canadian and UK governments have also signed an agreement to partner on semiconductor and quantum research and computing capacity. The University of Alberta and Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently announced the Artificial Intelligence Discovery Place which will allow researchers to use AWS technology to develop and commercialize AI-based technology.  

Generative AI and legal profession

A B.C.-based lawyer who was “not a sophisticated computer user and has little experience with AI” allegedly used ChatGPT to prepare for a case and the chatbot provided hallucinated case data. Hallucination refers to when a chatbot creates “realistic sounding but incorrect information”, according to a Global News article on the case. Lorne MacLean, lawyer for the opposing side, told Global News, “If we don’t fact-check artificially-generated intelligence materials and they’re inaccurate, it can lead to an existential threat to the legal system.” A 2023 survey of Canadian legal professionals, students and consumers found that 62 per cent of the legal market and 59 per cent of law students “believe generative AI will change law schools and the way law is taught and studied.” 

Robots on the job

Ameca, widely known as the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, will sit down for a chat with Laura Kilkrease, CEO of Alberta Innovates, at Inventure$ 2024 in Calgary on May 29. Ameca uses GPT3/4 to generate responses to questions but rather than typing into a chatbot, people can actually speak with the robot who will also provide the appropriate facial responses 

City planners in Kelowna are using generative AI chatbots (significantly less sophisticated than Ameca) to handle simple inquiries from the public so that staff can use their time more effectively. Ryan Smith, planner with the city, told a recent conference, “we just can’t hire more staff to keep up.” The city has received a $350,000 grant from the Government of B.C. and partnered with Microsoft to pilot the chatbots. 

Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital uses robots in the lab “to handle and process up to 70 per cent of the hospital’s microbiology samples.”   

Robots taking on construction jobs which are too dangerous or that humans do not have the capacity to perform could enhance, rather than replace, the abilities of construction workers. South Korea’s ARMstrong robots were initially developed for nuclear research but an altered version, IT-1, is now available for unsafe or onerous jobs such as moving objects up to 400 pounds or entering hazardous areas.  

Researchers at Drexel University’s College of Engineering find autonomous robots could be used alongside laser scans to “assess and monitor” infrastructure for cracking and other signs of erosion and help “triage” repairs.  

AI skills

Skills Future Singapore and AI Singapore have prepared Generative AI for the Tech Workforce, a handbook for small and medium businesses in Singapore to understand what skills are needed for generative AI and support transition.  

Arizona State University is the first post-secondary institution in the world to partner directly with OpenAI. Students and the partnership will focus on “increasing student success, finding new avenues for research and streamlining processes.” University president Michael Crow says that “augmented and artificial systems are here to stay, and we are optimistic about their ability to become incredible tools that help students learn, learn more quickly and understand subjects more thoroughly.” 

Other News 

  • Alberta’s Rural Integrated Community Clerkship program, which placed medical students in rural work experience programs, had an impact on rural doctor attraction and retention according to a study out of the University of Alberta. Out of just over 1,000 graduates between 2009 to 2016, “195 chose to become rural practitioners and 510 became family practitioners.” 
  • Manitoba’s schools will receive additional funding for the 2024/2025 school year with an average increase of 3.4 per cent. An additional $30 million will also be allocated to school nutrition to expand the program to more schools. 
  • The Manitoba Métis Federation, Further Education Society of Alberta (FESA), Winnipeg-based restaurant Bistro on Notre Dame, and RRC Polytech will partner to deliver the Me-yaw-sin Micowin (Good Food) culinary program to Métis youth living in Manitoba. The 12-week program allows youth to build skills rooted in Métis traditions for employment in tourism, hospitality and government. 
  • The government of the North West Territories is set to unveil a new mining code. Northern Miner summarizes that the government intends to “streamline processes, improve Indigenous participation and add certainty in a modern set of rules.”

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