Bracing for Automation

What Are Canada’s Most Vulnerable Jobs?

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Français   •   October 24, 2023

Automation is on the rise. Is your organization ready?

In an era of lightning-fast technological change, it’s more important than ever that Canadian leaders understand how the adoption of new technologies will impact Canada’s labour force.

Some occupations are more susceptible to automation than others. This means that certain workers, employers, and industries will face greater difficulty adapting than others.

On behalf of the Future Skills Centre, The Conference Board of Canada is researching where leaders and decision-makers should focus their efforts.

Here are some of our findings.

What makes workers vulnerable?

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report identified what we call high-risk, low-mobility occupations.

In other words, these are jobs at high risk of automation where workers will have difficulty transitioning into jobs at lower risk of automation.

An acceptable job transition is based on several factors:

Reasonable skill and wage differentials

Task similarity

The level of effort required to retrain

For example, a transition is unacceptable if it would leave someone severely overqualified and underpaid.

High risk, low mobility

Almost one in five Canadian employees works in a high-risk, low-mobility job. Not all of these workers will necessarily be automated out of their jobs, but they are more likely to see significant transformation and will face more difficulty adapting.

Here are the top five most vulnerable occupations by number of Canadians employed:

food counter attendants

Food counter attendants




Administrative assistants

general office support workers

General office support workers



Workers in these occupations will need significant re‑training to adapt to automation.

Sector by sector

Individual occupations are only part of the story. When it comes to technology, each sector faces its own set of trends and challenges.

To better understand how automation affects industries differently, we spoke with leaders in the following sectors with high concentrations of high-risk, low-mobility occupations:

In the past few years, new technologies in hotels, fast-food operations, and grocery stores have changed the employee and customer experience. 

Apps: These are transforming how people order food, where they secure accommodations, when (and if) they physically enter stores, and the way service providers interact with their customers.

Self-service: Tablets in restaurants and self-scanning in grocery stores are becoming commonplace, but completely cashier-less stores are not yet on the menu.

Data: Businesses are working hard to take advantage of increasing amounts of available data. They’re using it to inform their decisions and change the way they operate.

This sector has changed dramatically in the past decade because of online retail and Internet-enabled shopping experiences.

Smart supply chains: Predictive supply chain technologies are gaining steam. Retailers are better understanding where and how their products are made, when they will be delivered, and in what order their supplies will be shipped.

Social media: Social media has fundamentally changed the customer-retailer relationship. While it can be costly and time-consuming, social media engagement can attract and retain more customers for retailers—and more loyalty and identification with their brands—than ever before.

Digital payments: Business owners are shifting toward cashless stores.

Although robots are a well-established point of disruption in manufacturing, increasingly sophisticated technologies are opening more non-routine and dexterous tasks to automation.

IoT devices: New sensors can collect real-time data on nearly every aspect of the manufacturing process, enabling complementary technologies such as data analytics.

Data-driven decisions: Many organizations are shifting toward processes that tailor production schedules to the data they receive from producers and consumers.

Enterprise resource planning: These technologies help organizations better understand what is happening on their production lines, as well as what changes need to occur.

Many changes to the construction industry have resulted from digitalization, automation, and the search for improved worker safety.

IoT-enabled infrastructure: Sensors in buildings, bridges, roadways, and other pieces of critical infrastructure allow organizations to better understand and maintain our infrastructure.

Advanced materials: These technologies, like smart concrete, are not always digital, but they often complement the sensors being installed on new and existing infrastructure.

3D printing: It is currently possible to 3D-print entire structures that once took a significant amount of time and resources to build. This practice is less common in Canada than in other countries, but organizations expect to see increased adoption over the next decade.

The technology-related changes unfolding in this sector have been less dramatic than in others. However, organizations expect the shift toward digital services will greatly impact office support staff.

Digital delivery tools: Apps, websites, and chatbots are making it possible to deliver health care at a distance. Canada’s digital divide and its privacy regulations present real impediments to these technologies.

Accessible technologies: Digital technologies that can be customized to support people with diverse abilities are becoming more commonplace. Many accessibility standards exist, but organizations need to adopt them more broadly in the coming years.

What affects technology adoption?

Through our interviews, we’ve already identified several factors:

  • Ethical, legal, security, and financial concerns
  • Regional differences
  • Sustainability and regulatory compliance
  • Industry-specific innovations
  • Industry-specific innovations

Next steps

On behalf of the Future Skills Centre, The Conference Board of Canada is studying how, when, where, and why organizations adopt new technologies.

In this project, our researchers are exploring the following questions:

  • How will adopting new technology affect Canadian industry and employment?
  • Where should efforts be focused to help workers transition from occupations at high risk of automation to ones at lower risk?
  • What major developments are happening in the sectors and industries we think will be affected most by technology adoption?
  • What are the different considerations for technology adoption by organizations, and how do they differ between sectors and industries?

From automation to transformation, governments and employers need to know how to adapt to changing occupational and skills needs.

Get the latest research and findings from the Future Skills Centre that affect your industry and organization.

Toronto Metropolitan University
The Conference Board of Canada
Government of Canada

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