Muskens: Innovation and technology require developing new job skills almost daily

If we knew everything ahead of time, we would be able to predict what kind of skills and jobs are going to be required in the future.

If we knew everything ahead of time, we would be able to predict what kind of skills and jobs are going to be required in the future and what jobs won’t be around in the next five years.

Colleges and universities could build programs for tomorrow instead of reacting to a need today.

And nobody would be unemployed because we would train and educate for the in-demand jobs of tomorrow.

But this isn’t a perfect world and we don’t always know what’s around the corner. Occupations can disappear overnight due to technology and new ones can emerge quickly because of consumer demand.

We live in an economic world that includes just-in-time production, embraces innovation and is willing to adopt change to increase profits, thereby driving up the demand for on-the-spot skills training and on-going continual learning for employees.

This puts a lot of pressure on colleges and universities to deliver programs and courses, which, upon graduation, may be two to four years later and provides industry with a worker who can meet current job expectations.

Add to that, society’s expectations of having those same colleges and universities provide a better educated and trained workforce, yielding a competitive edge that will help attract multinational corporations to set up shop in Canada.

So how do we make this all work?

Unfortunately, in Canada we have an unemployment system that is supposed to bridge the earning gap between losing your job and finding another job, usually with the same skill set.

So what happens to those workers when there isn’t another job to go to?

In other words, what happens when unemployment occurs due to radical shifts in technology, which can permanently devalue an entire skill category?

These are the challenges that come with managing a labour market and trying to keep it as progressive as possible.

In countries such as Canada, governments have struggled with providing programs to help workers transition out of current occupations into retraining and hopefully a new career.

These programs come and go and with the recent budget cuts it will be interesting to see if any remain.

Canada faces labour shortages in the resource sector, where these industries are expecting a shortage of 1.5 million workers, mostly in the mining, oil and gas industries.

How this country thinks it can shift workers into these jobs remains to be seen. Immigration can only supply so many workers, and not all new immigrants will qualify to meet the needs of these industries.

Today there are some countries that are seriously looking at their education system, from Grade 1 to post-secondary, to find ways to help their citizens deal with substantial labour market shifts.

These countries are examining education as a means to provide people with general skills sets that are a benefit to all workers regardless of the industry.

If they are successful, this may help all countries in the future deal with the ups and downs of the labour market.

Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College.

jmuskens@okanagan.bc.ca

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