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 .
Digital lessons from the pandemic for the future of education
Educators at all levels face decisions about what a post-COVID future will look like. In B.C., post-secondary institutions (PSIs) are preparing for a full return to in-person learning this fall, while PSIs in other provinces are still deciding what to do. Lessons from the past year are fresh in their minds. In some cases, educators have turned to video games, online proctoring, and social media like TikTok to find answers.
Experiential learning through video games can help students, even in subjects such as social studies and history. Microsoft worked with Anishinaabe elders, knowledge keepers and educators to build Manito Ahbee Aki: The place where the Creator sits; a game which uses the popular game Minecraft to teach children about Anishinaabe culture. The program was rolled out for Winnipeg students in the Louis Riel school division and is available to educators across the country. Read more on the program here or access Microsoft’s site for the game here.
The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) recently announced it was going to use D2L’s Integrity Advocate as its digital proctoring tool. Integrity Advocate “verifies learners’ identity, monitors training participation, and proctors online examinations across all devices and browsers without the need for high-speed internet.” The tool also integrates with D2L’s broader learning management system, BrightSpace. Read more on the BCIT announcement or access the D2L site here.
But students aren’t as happy as institutions with online proctoring. The technology is not always suited to the diverse needs and work environments of students, which can result in false flags for cheating. There are also security and privacy concerns. In October, the University of Regina’s tool ProctorTrack was shut down for 10 days due to a security breach. Following an investigation, it was determined no personal data was breached. Read more on digital proctor program concerns here and the ProctorTrack breach here.
It is not clear how many Canadian institutions use proctoring software. One study analyzes references to proctoring software on post-secondary institutions (PSI) websites in order to determine the prevalence of such software. The study found that 62.9 per cent of institutions in the United States and Canada referenced at least one type of proctoring software and that usage is growing. Read more on this study here.
Tech Spark Canada has worked with social media companies TikTok and Shopify as well as IBM and RBC to develop a Tech Entrepreneurship course. Grade 11 teachers in Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia will be able to access the content which allows each company to develop a different module. TikTok Canada will be used for the business advertising module while Shopify will provide free access to its commerce platform and learning materials. Read more on the program here.
Informal education on TikTok has also drawn attention. Some Black creators use the platform to share their lived experiences to comment on social issues while sex educators reach youth directly to separate fact from fiction. One recent BBC article also looks at how Gen Z discussions on mental health could impact future workplaces as stigmas around mental health are removed and open discussion is allowed. Read more on TikTok and mental health in the workplace here.
The Alberta Securities Commission has started a series of advertisements to educate Alberta youth about online fraud as part of Fraud Prevention month. The #TakeSomeTime campaign will run on TikTok, Instagram, Reddit and Facebook. Read more on the campaign here.
Alberta’s tech ecosystem
The tech ecosystem in Calgary drew widespread attention with the announcement that Infosys, a global digital services and consulting company, would open an office in Calgary. The company pointed to the post-secondary system in Calgary as one of the reasons for the decision and said that it expects to initially hire 500 people. Read more on the announcement here. Read Janet’s op-ed in the Calgary Herald about why now is the time for the province to develop a talent pool.
Canadian tech company mCloud Technologies Corp recently announced a memorandum of understanding with Invest Alberta to move its headquarters from Vancouver to Calgary. The company uses AI and data analytics for critical energy infrastructure. Read more on the move here.
The ecosystem Calgary built for tech has even attracted some companies from Edmonton. In a recent interview, Christopher Micetich, TEC Edmonton board member, spoke to Edmonton’s ability to build start-ups and the need for more support to move those start-ups to a viable position. Read more on Edmonton’s efforts to retain tech companies here.
The Alberta government also plays a significant role in attraction and retention of tech companies to the province. According to its latest budget, Jobs Now, an upskill and reskill program for employment in emerging sectors like tech, will receive $136 million over three years with a combination of federal and provincial funds. The Innovation Employment Grant will also receive $166 million over three years to help SMEs receive grants for research and development. There are no additional tax incentives for tech firms looking to come to Alberta. For more on what the budget means for tech development in Alberta, read this article.
The Alberta budget cuts contribution to PSI operational spending by 5.2 per cent, on a case-by-case basis. Institutions are expected to increase their operational contributions by 2.3 per cent. The cuts are the third for institutions in as many years which have resulted in layoffs, tuition increases, and wage freezes. Read more on the budget implications for post-secondary institutions, which are key to developing the tech talent for the sector, here and here. Stay tuned for more on provincial post-secondary budgets as Saskatchewan and Manitoba release their budgets soon.
Digital future of Agri-Tech
Alberta and Saskatchewan have big agriculture and agri-tech sectors, and the B.C. agri-tech sector is growing. In a recent op-ed, David Guthrie, partner and national agri-business leader at KPMG, highlighted the role B.C. innovators could play in the sector’s future. More broadly, ag-tech is expected to see dramatic changes over the next twenty years with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Read more on what insiders see coming down the pipeline for ag-tech here.
There are high hopes for a proposed vertical farming project in Okanagan Falls, located in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. If completed, the project would be key to the development of a new industrial park. The regional district board has yet to approve the project but has tentatively approved rezoning and has scheduled a public hearing on March 18. Read more on the project here.
In more “farms-of-the-future” news, autonomous tractors could soon be more common. AgXeed, a Dutch start-up, has developed the technology for robot tractors. The robot uses a digital map of the farm to follow the farmer’s instructions. The tractors are expected to be available in Europe by 2022. In most other countries, regulations don’t yet allow autonomous tractors to run, so companies have developed retrofit kits to allow old tractors to be converted to autonomous vehicles. Read more on the European tractors here, the slow changes to regulations here, and the retrofit kits here.
However, third party ag-tech innovations for tractors, such as retrofit kits, can run afoul of federal copyright laws. As tractors become increasingly computerized, proprietary software allows the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to prevent farmers from using third-party equipment with their machinery. CWF’s own Carlo Dade, Director of the Trade and Investment Centre, and Anthony Rosborough, lawyer and PhD researcher (law) at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, explore this problem. Read the op-ed here.
As part of this shift in agriculture, farms need access to broadband. Following-up on the first Future of Work and Learning brief and the need for universal broadband access, we have learned that Starlink, SpaceX’s broadband internet company, has opened pre-orders for its services. Beta testing kits are being rolled out for customers in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba. Full service is expected later in 2021. The service uses satellites to deliver broadband access to urban and rural locations. In the United States, Starlink has even applied for FCC permission to beam directly to large vehicles and ships. Read more on Starlink’s Canadian rollout here, pre-order here.
Post-COVID job trends
Roughly 24 per cent of those employed pre-pandemic in Canada have at least considered changing careers as a result of COVID-19. For those in hard hit sectors, such as travel and hospitality, there have been interesting transitions. One pilot is now a sommelier. In the next brief, we will take a closer look at how the work force has changed over the past year as a result of the pandemic.
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 credit: Screen shot, https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/education/manito-ahbee-aki