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 .

How the pandemic has impacted the workplace

This brief is the first in a longer, two-part series to look at the impacts of the pandemic on work and learningThe next brief will look at impacts and future implications for the classroom, including post-secondary.

Working remotely vs. going into the office 

The vast majority (80 per cent) of those who work from home in Canada say they want the flexibility to work from home after the pandemic. This is up from 65 per cent in April. Read more on the work from home survey here. 

Meanwhile, 48 per cent of Canadian employers surveyed said that they would not allow work from home flexibility after the pandemic. Employers and employees should resolve this tension now to ensure that there are no surprises when workplaces are able to fully reopen. Read about the survey and how to navigate this conflict here. 

During the pandemic, some employees took the opportunity to move to less expensive suburban, or even rural settings as they were no longer required to go into the office. Tech sector companies have started negotiating pay cuts for those who are living in lower cost areas as the cost-of-living decreases. Expect to see more of this “reverse of the urban boom” in the future, particularly in those sectors that allow remote work. Read more about the tech sector response here. 

Small business hard hit 

In December, small business owners had greater optimism for the next twelve months thanks to vaccine rollouts and holiday business. However, optimism for the coming three months dropped to similar levels as Spring 2020 with the announcement of strict lockdowns. Read the full December 2020 Business Barometer from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Access the CFIB’s list of supports, including federal and provincial resources, available for small business here. 

Some business owners chose to reopen, defying the measures place. For example, Natalie Klein, owner of a barbershop in Innisfail, Alta., reopened despite an extension to restrictions. While officers issued tickets, the business also received many messages of support as well as criticism. Read more about the barbershop here.   

Build ecosystems to support the business community

In a recent interview, Arlene Dickinson provided some advice for small businesses as they look to recover from the pandemic and what the future will hold. She said it’s absolutely critical for companies to have a digital presence and the business community should develop sector-specific ecosystems with programs to spur innovation, growth capital, mentorship and marketing support. Watch the full interview. 

Pandemic effects on mental health in the workplace

Mental health concerns present one of the greatest challenges during the pandemic.  In December, 36 per cent of Canadians reported a mental health concern for a co-worker according to the Morneau Shepell Mental Health Index December 2020.   

For essential health care workers, 78 per cent of nurses, 73 per cent of allied health professionals such as pharmacists and social workers, and 65 per cent of physicians reported burnout even before the pandemic. Almost a year on, there are concerns that health workers face greater levels of stress and burnout. Read more on the issue of health care worker burnout here. 

A recent survey of 3,300 essential workers across the country showed the following: 

  • 50 per cent of all surveyed reported inadequate safety controls. 
  • Out of those who reported inadequate safety controls, 50 per cent reported anxiety symptoms; 40 per cent met screening criteria for depression. 
  • One third of those who experienced job loss reported depression symptoms. 

However, those who went to work and had excellent precautions reported better mental health than those working from home. Read more on this survey here. 

A recent Leger-Association of Canadian Studies online survey of Canadians showed that recent immigrants, unemployed individuals, and minorities were more likely to experience negative mental health effects because of the pandemic. Within these groups, women were more likely to report negative impacts. Among unemployed individuals surveyed, 43.7 per cent of unemployed women reported bad or very bad mental health compared to 28.7 per cent of unemployed males. Read more on the survey results here. 

Business solutions for mental health impacts 

With the digital future, and the pandemic, workplaces have to be prepared for “double disruption.” This future means that employees will need human skills, such as self-management and critical thinking, which a robot or computer cannot replicate. In order to undertake this work, employees need to be mentally ready to take on transition and workplaces prepared to support the mental health of employees. Read more on the future skills needed and mental health here. 

Mental health recovery from the pandemic will be a lengthy process, especially for those at immediate risk for post-COVID stress disorder. This includes those who have experienced COVID-19 illness – their own or someone close to them – firsthand, as well as those who have had extreme exposure to its adverse effects – health care workers, paramedics, and, less obviously, journalists.  

Social isolation, unemployment, economic struggles, and the overall anxiety of balancing health and safety concerns with everyday activities, such as work and education, may cause other mental health effects. Studies in China show that those with higher job satisfaction experienced less post-traumatic stress effects and coped better after the first wave. Read more on the post-COVID mental health outlook here. 

Pandemic affects women in work force 

It’s no surprise that women report more pandemic related mental health issues. With schools and daycares closed due to the pandemic and the effects of shutdowns on service industry jobs and pre-existing pay gaps, women more broadly experienced the effects of the pandemic than men. Read more on the impacts to women here.  

Overall, unemployment since the pandemic began is still higher in youth than in other demographic groups, down 10.5 per cent from February 2020 employment levels as of December 2020. Female youth aged 15-24 were farther away from pre-pandemic employment than male youth at -12.1 per cent versus -8.8 per cent. These numbers are an improvement from April, when male youth were down 30.5 per cent and female youth were down 37.9 per cent from February 2020 levels. Read the December 2020 Labour Force Survey and more on the impacts to youth here.  

Black, Indigenous and women from other minorities are more likely to experience unemployment than white women. In November 2020, the unemployment rate for white women was 6.2 per cent while minority women overall had a 10.5 per cent unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for Black women was 13.4 per cent and Chinese women was 10.2 per cent, while Indigenous women averaged 16.8 per cent unemployment between June and August 2020. Read more on the disparity here.  

A recently announced study from University of Calgary sociologist Dr. Naomi Lightman will study pandemic impacts on immigrant women care workers. This research will hopefully shed light on the intersection of employment, gender, and immigrant status during the pandemic. Read more on the new study here. 

How to get women back to work? 

Access to childcare has consistently arisen as key to getting back to work post-pandemic. Universal childcare has long been a policy consideration at the federal level but there has been greater focus and support on the issue from businesses because of the pandemic. Jim Stanford, economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work estimates a system for one to five-year-olds would boost national GDP by $10 billion. Read more on his economic predictions here. 

Immigrant numbers down 

Prior to the pandemic, Canada had planned to increase workforce immigration. With travel restrictions, the number of immigrants accepted into Canada in 2020 was lower than anticipated. With the 2021-2023 Federal Government Immigration Plan, the federal government has adjusted its outlook to make up for the immigration shortfall in 2020. Read the federal government’s announcement of this change. 

Businesses can do more for immigrants

Dan Rees, group head of Canadian banking at Scotiabank, makes the case for immigrant support in a recent Globe and Mail op-ed. He argues that the business community can support immigrants through financial literacy programs, diversification of recruitment, professional integration of foreign credentials, and mentorship and other outreach to increase immigrant access to professional and social networks. Read the full op-ed. 

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

Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash