The Future of Work and Learning Brief
Issue 35 | June 15, 2023
This month’s brief is part of a series of focused briefs that examine recent innovations in education and training and the workforce. This issue provides recent insights into how western Canadian sectors increase their use of digital technology and how businesses and educators are adapting to support this integration.
Shifts in Energy and Electricity
Ken Silverstein with Forbes magazine took a deep dive look at AI in the energy sector following the United States Energy Association virtual summit on AI. While humans are able to identify and solve problems, our ability to manage and analyze complex situations is limited. AI can “run through innumerable scenarios and memorize all potential patterns” across incredibly complex energy systems and grids. AI can also provide forecasts for production and even weather, such as solar or wind availability. Modelling for labour force needs is also possible and the Government of Alberta and Electricity Human Resources Canada are partnering to build an electricity sector labour market modelling tool.
Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research estimate that 700,000 additional jobs will be created by 2050 with Alberta’s clean tech labour force growing at the fastest rate: 10 per cent per year compared to a national average of seven per cent. David Paterson, Vice-President of Corporate and Environmental Affairs with General Motors Canada, told The Energy Mix that changes to clean tech across the energy and automotive sectors mean training will be critical “whether it’s a boilermaker or whether it’s people in our dealerships or building charging networks across Canada.”
Other countries are also ramping up efforts to build their workforce. Quanta and ATCO provided $12.5 million for a new Luma College Campus in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico. The 24-acre campus houses 18,000 sq. ft. of facilities which include “a 10-acre skills and competency training yard, a learning center, and classrooms where courses are offered for skilled labour, technical safety, and lineworker crew leadership” for those who work in the electricity sector.
Technology and Agriculture’s Generational Transition
Upcoming retirements and the incorporation of technology and sustainable practices are changing farms in the West. Attracting younger generations to take over farms is imperative. Misconceptions of the industry have deterred youth from jobs in agriculture but there is a shift. Joy Agnew, vice president of research at the Olds College of Agriculture and Technology in Alberta told the Canadian Press that “more and more young people in those very niche technological areas like software development or coding or instrumentation or robotics” see the potential in agriculture. Olds College also leads the Pan-Canadian Smart Farm Network which has signed on digital agricultural experts across the Prairies.
Bahram Rashti, an entrepreneur in Pitt Meadows, B.C., co-owns the newly launched UP Vertical Farms, which aims to produce just over six million bags of sustainable, locally grown leafy greens per year through entirely automated processes. Barry Murchie founded GoodLeaf Farms and uses technology for vertical farming in urban areas to grow local produce year-round. The Calgary Herald highlights a few technical advancements in Alberta such as precision agriculture techniques, which uses GPS systems and sensors, to precisely monitor and manage their fields.
Digital Solutions to Construction Labour Shortage
A large number of construction companies face skilled trade labour shortages and are looking for ways to fill the gap. KPMG Canada recently surveyed 275 companies and found companies look, at least in part, to digital solutions. Digital tools can assist with the project bidding process and staying on track with jobs. Tom Rothfischer, a partner at KPMG in Canada, believes technology will reduce waste and improve worker safety while saving resources. Technologies such as 3D printing and drone-based surveying can be adapted throughout the sector. Of survey respondents, 73 per cent said that Canada is slow to adopt technology compared to other countries but almost all respondents said that they were going to use some of their operating budget to support digital integration – 46 per cent said that they would allocate more than 11 per cent.
Attract Talent Through Integration
Warehouse jobs may be the first entry into the workforce for many youth. Pennsylvania-based Lucas Systems has introduced algorithms and machine learning to increase productivity in warehouses while also making the workplace more appealing to Gen Z employees. The technology halves the number of steps workers take in a day. The company’s Chief Marketing Officer told industry magazine DCVelocity “Gen Z workers expect to use modern technologies like they use at home. Handheld and personalized, tech must be easy to use and must help them save time and mitigate exertion.”
As workplaces move online, views of digital integration and its benefits differ. A recent PCMag survey provides some intergenerational insights. Of those born in 1981 or later, (Millennial and Gen Z), 62 per cent said that they thought AI would positively impact their work, compared to 45 per cent of Gen X and 38 per cent of Boomers. Younger workers were also more likely to have already incorporated generative AI, like ChatGPT, into their work processes.
At the same time, there is a wider range of ages in the workplace, which can present both a challenge and opportunity for employers. Dinette Koolhaas, President of Kelly International, suggests that the expertise and knowledge of older workers and the push for mental health, work-life balance, equity, diversity and inclusion from younger generations can be harnessed to benefit business in the long term. Flexibility and accommodation of the range of needs of this workforce could include a hybrid environment with a mix of in-person and remote meeting tools. Tim Madden with Executive Career Upgrades adds that these disparate views on digital integration make it important to maintain open dialogue and have a clear understanding of where employees need more or less support when new technology is adopted. It’s also important to take into account the digital literacy skills of the team.
- Justin Pahara, research scientist at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta, is leading a project on insecticide nanotechnology that will allow producers to target and remove specific pests in their crops.
- Betakit reports that Alberta led first quarter venture funding in 2023, outpacing Toronto and British Columbia. Edmonton-based operations-management software startup Jobber received just over $130 million in investment in February
- Richmond-based Axniix has worked with Aeolus, a Taiwanese robot manufacturer, to create disinfecting and security robots for Canadian hospitals and other health care centres. Seleen Ly, COO for Axniix, says that the company hopes the robots will be used to address labour shortages.
- As firefighters across the country tackle a particularly fierce start to wildfire season, Global News reports on how AI may be useful in the future. ALERTCalifornia uses a network of cameras to monitor activity across the state, with AI trained “to watch for anomalies like smoke and flag them” for a human to verify.
- Fibre internet has launched in Aklavik and Nahanni Butte in the Northwest Territories by Northwestel. The upgrade allows these communities to move from 15 Mbps to the federal standard speed of 50 Mbps.
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 .