This op-ed was originally published in the Globe and Mail on January 23, 2018.
A few weeks ago, Amazon opened the first checkout-free convenience store, ushering in a future without lineups to pay, but also without cashiers. And just like that, one more occupation was added to the growing list of jobs at risk of disappearing because of new technology. In fact, according to the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, nearly 50 per cent of the paid work currently performed in Canada could be automated by current or forthcoming technology.
Faced with such rapid and profound disruptions, the time has come to rethink how and when we learn and acquire new skills to prepare ourselves for an ever-changing workplace. We urgently need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning.
For post-secondary institutions, the challenge presented by the onslaught of disruptive technologies is twofold. On one hand, they must work harder than ever to stay on top of emerging trends and technologies in order to train resilient and adaptable graduates. Students must not only be prepared for new and emerging jobs, but they also need to acquire the learning tools necessary to continuously adapt to the inevitable changes in their field.
On the other hand, learning institutions must increasingly support displaced workers, or those seeking to keep up with changes in their industry, by offering flexible training options adapted to their specific needs that take into account prior learning and experiences. We already see this evolution in many college and institute programs such as Lethbridge College’s wind turbine technician training, which has helped laid-off workers from Alberta’s oil and gas sector find new applications for their skills. Similarly, McDonald’s is collaborating with colleges in Ontario and B.C. to have their on-the-job training be recognized for academic credentials.
So, education is no longer simply for the young and unemployed, nor does it end with the completion of a single degree or diploma. Our new global economic reality means that every one of us will need to become a lifelong learner as every employer evolves to be competitive in a marketplace driven by the capacity to innovate.
Colleges and institutes across Canada already work closely with your local employers to offer fully customized programs, ensuring their graduates have the skills they need to succeed in the rapidly evolving labour market. Leveraging those relationships to provide new models for continuous training will only become more important – the future belongs to those who learn!
President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada