Finding Focus: The Future of Work in Canada

Focus Area — Innovation & Technology

future of work

Defining the future of work is a complex and multifaceted task—so much so, that it’s difficult to pin down where exactly to start.

Much of the existing research looks at the tasks that employers will automate, the workers they will displace, and the skills needed to complete said tasks. These are critical questions that will help smooth the transition to the next phase of our knowledge-based economy.

But, translating research into useful policy, programs, and behaviours requires more focus.

Automation and Occupational Mobility

Where should leaders and decision-makers place their efforts? A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development can help. Essentially, the report poses the question: Which occupations at high risk of automation have the fewest possible and acceptable transitions into lower risk ones? For a transition to be possible – and successful – certain circumstances are necessary. For one, workers need to move into a related occupation and re-skill in a reasonable amount of time. These transitions are considered acceptable by employees – and society - when wage differential is minimal.

It’s also important that workers do not transition into alternative high-risk occupations; these are also unsustainable and, with time, would result in further displacement.

Canadian Workers

When applying this methodology to Canada, we can see which industries have the most workers in high-risk, low-mobility occupations. (See Chart 1). We can also see which high-risk, low-mobility occupations have the most workers. (See Chart 2).

Chart 1: Share of High-Risk, Low-Mobility Employment by Industry


blog_fow-ch1 17 16 12 9 7 40 Accommodation and food services Manufacturing Retail trade Construction Health care and social assistance Other Industries

Share of High-Risk, Low-Mobility Employment by Occupation


blog_fow-ch2 11 10 7 7 6 59 Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support Cashiers Administrative assistants General office support workers Cooks Other occupations

Why highlight these industries and occupations? Private and public organizations must use a strategic approach when deciding how to use resources. Rather than settling for reactionary measures, leaders can use a practical lens to address people and skill transitions in various sectors.

For example, consider retail stores and fast food restaurants. Automation and self-checkout technology in their industries have been steadily increasing. In the context of automation and labour mobility, these workers are among the most vulnerable in Canada.

Leaders of today need to focus on how their sectors and business are changing, and how employees can re-skill to meet these changes and thrive in the future of work.

Learn More!

Our Council for Innovation and Commercialization is also exploring practical questions about the future of work and how it relates to Canadian employers. Its next meeting is in Ottawa on October 1–2. If you’d like to learn more about the Council, please get in touch with Marianne Fotia, our Manager of Executive Networks.

Darren Gresch

Research Associate

Media Contacts

For all requests, including reports and interviews, please contact: 

Michelle Rozon

Erin Brophy

(From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET; after hours, please send an e-mail.)

Related Research

Insights – Future of Work

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