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Tuesday, August 11, 2020
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Research & Trends

What to expect in the Canadian labour market in 2020

While thinking about what to expect in the Canadian labour market in 2020, I can’t help but start by reflecting on what transpired this past year and what might change. So, where have we been and what do I see for Canada in 2020?

The present is the new future

Throughout this past year, LMIC participated and spoke at several future of work conferences. Searching “future of work 2019 conference Canada” on Google yields 194 million results. For comparison, “unemployment 2019 conference Canada” yields 11 million — demonstrating the significance currently placed on the future of work.

Much of the focus and debate has been on the role of technology and the (mostly conflicting, sometimes unfounded) possibilities of a jobless future. The future of work is complex, but much of the research has simplified the picture — leading to good conference material, but hardly any actionable evidence for policymakers. Looking ahead, I anticipate we’ll be talking more about the challenges of 2020 than 2050. Or at least we’ll be talking about the future in a way that is meant to thoughtfully prepare and inform policymakers.

Job quality to job quantity

With the unemployment rate hovering near historic lows, 2019 was a good year for job creation in Canada overall. Of course, not every sector, segment or region of the country benefited to the same extent. Regional and sectoral challenges were a plenty but much of the narrative in 2019 concerned job quality and related concerns (also mostly unfounded) about rising gig work.

“The future of work is complex, but much of the research has simplified the picture …”

To date, there has been little to no evidence suggesting that job quality in Canada has been eroding. This is seen through the 82% of full-time jobs created in the past decade. As we anticipate 2020, and the potential for a slowdown in economic activity (with some hints of this already: the country shed 72,000 jobs in November 2019), I suspect that our thinking will shift toward how best to stimulate job creation and better protect people from job loss today and in the future.

Enter skills.

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Skills, skills and more skills

Thanks to historically low unemployment levels in Canada, the topic of skills shortages took centre stage in 2019. While reviewing many skills shortages reports, we found much confusion on what was really meant by skills. Traditionally, we used education or qualifications as proxies for skills, but there is growing consensus we need a new language on skills and one that is shared by all those concerned.

Our current understanding of the skill requirements of jobs is limited. To address this, we must better define, understand and measure skills. This applies regardless of how the job market evolves in 2020. New jobs will always be created, and we need to ensure that people have the right set of skills to succeed today and tomorrow. If there is one thing about the future of work that we should be talking about, it is skills.

While Canada is at the start of that conversation, there is a lot of great work taking place to find out what skills Canadians need to succeed. I trust the focus on skills will continue, as it should. Regardless of what does transpire in 2020, at LMIC, we will be monitoring these changes with the objective of providing Canadians unbiased insights and information to help them navigate the world of work.


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Steven Tobin Author
Steven Tobin is the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC). Ensuring that Canadians, stakeholders and policy-makers have the necessary information and insights to succeed in a changing, dynamic world of work is LMIC’s mandate. Before joining LMIC, Tobin worked at the OECD, the ILO, and both federal and provincial levels of government.
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Steven Tobin Author
Steven Tobin is the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC). Ensuring that Canadians, stakeholders and policy-makers have the necessary information and insights to succeed in a changing, dynamic world of work is LMIC’s mandate. Before joining LMIC, Tobin worked at the OECD, the ILO, and both federal and provincial levels of government.
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