Future of Work

It’s to big to be an election issue?

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This issue, titled "The Future of Work", is seizing the opportunity to really wake up our political leaders to the challenges facing labour, and what the future might have in store for employers and employees alike.

An ongoing theme with Exchange Magazine originates back in the early 90's, as a lesson learned from University of Waterloo Economics Professor Larry Smith. In the 1992 Exchange Magazine feature, titled "The Apostle of Optimism," Smith introduced what I found as a useful mantra - "adapt or die". This mantra is as relevant today as it was back then. I would wager that its meaning is more significant today than ever before, as changes in Ontario's work force have become more complex and challenging, and future change is unknown.

Also in this issue is Carol Simpson; at the time of our interview, Carol was Executive Director of Work Force Planning Board of Waterloo Region, Wellington and Dufferin Counties (WFPB). She is a long time advocate of employers and employees, she has worked closely with Smith, as well as all of the local groups that are vested and engaged in this community. The WFPB works with many post secondary education, employment and skills-focused organizations. I was always impressed with the workforce challenges Simpson had to get in front of. Moving forward, I look forward to working with her successor, Charlene Hofbrauer.

At our last meeting, Simpson announced that she is moving on from the planning board. She told me she's entering the next stage of life, the one where she "gets to decide the terms of her day". As a thank you for her friendship and shared insight, Carol Simpson is this issue’s Making a Difference ... very fitting!

As one last gesture, she invited me to a round-table on the Future of Work, hosted by the planning board in Ayr and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD is based in France and represents 36 countries. Essentially, the OECD is a "united front for countries to share about their common eco-social problems, as well as collaborate on finding solutions".

The round-table, which was held in September, discussed the research currently being conducted by the OECD. The three Ontario-specific research areas, also include London and Hamilton, But our story, aggregated by Exchange and written by Paul Knowles, focuses on the Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph and area. The purpose of the OECD research is to look at "important insights into the changing nature of work and how technology, digitization and automation is set to shift the way we do work". The report should be out early next year.

This cover story, suitably titled "A Great Future or Future Disaster?", will provide readers insight into the discussions held that day. The round-table lasted 2.5 hours, and covered many different challenges facing work places all over the globe. It was a fascinating afternoon. You can become familiar with the complex issues by reading the article on page 6. The day closed with a request from the organizers Jonathan Barr and Anil Verma. The request was to share, individually, "the top three issues/priorities [guests] felt should be focused on or highlighted in their final report."

Here are my three top priorities.

1) We need to develop a new life long learning education funding model, one that does not get ambushed by party politics nor fluctuates every 4-5 years. A model where cash flow funds are solid, to faciliate planning with a 15-20 year view. One designed to benefit the people needing education at any stage of their employment. Only by focusing deeper into the "students" position and less on the "party" position, can we meet some good long term goals.

2) All life long learning stakeholders should be required to participate in the collaborative educational discussions with industry and labour at the same table. This means, all vested in the learning and upskilling paradigm, including those from our elementary and secondary schools boards, including organized labour groups. Include school superintendents, contracted curriculum strategist, training generals, include commercial media and social media outlets so transparency can be realized .

3) Get to it now. Automation, machine learning and AI are all creating a pace of change for our workforce unprecedented in history. The issues facing our labour force, are the re-skilling of the middle class and the skilling of the lower class. The longer we delay in tackling this situation, the more difficult and complex this situation will become. We need to create an urgency in government and in educators. To find solutions in individual regions and fund them differently, to try to solve unique problems of the area, quickly. There is no one blanket solution for everywhere. Having said that, a solution must be found with the promise that it can be rolled out, in a scalable way, with a large degree of regional relevance.

We are lucky to be located in Waterloo Region and Guelph, as we have many community assets in the right place. We were dealing with this issue 30 years ago but we still have many problems. I believe we are economicaly and geographicly blessed, with some really awesome institutions that are focused on just this issue.

Waterloo Region, Guelph and surrounding area have time-after-time proven that we are best prepared for "The Future of Work". And we should be, we are a significant player in creating the disturbance. Yes, we're part of the problem, more importantly we're part of the solution. If our governments fail to adequately fund a long term solution to the labour and skills problem, we'll all be affected for a very long time. Currently we have a labour shortage, we need to change the mind set of the young people who just don't want to work. Many don't have the skills to find out what they need to do to get a good job. We need to focus more on fixing our education streams and employment strategies to suit life long learners.

Thanks again for reading Exchange Magazine Quarterly; I trust you'll enjoy it.

Jon

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Exchange Magazine Quarterly is published 4 times a year

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