This op-ed was originally published in iPolitics on March 15, 2021.
“Similarly, employers looking to
build, or rebuild, the skill-base of their workforce will find they have more options if they look beyond
traditional education credentials and experience requirements. Workers with the capabilities employers seek may
already be part of their existing workforce but identifying them may require employers to think differently. ”
Succeeding in the post-pandemic labour market will require Canadian employers and employees to embrace a paradigm
shift when it comes to seeking and filling jobs.
Labour markets in this country were rocked in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment in Canada fell by more than
15 per cent in just two months. Certain sectors were hit harder than others, and both workers and employers have
struggled to find their footing again. In many cases, workers are finding that there is no job to return to. The plant
has closed, or the business simply could not survive the financial impacts of the past year.
But what has not disappeared are the skills and abilities of displaced workers. Employers that have come through the
storm still have a need for qualified people to fill critically important roles. The key will be for both employers
and employees to be adaptable in the new work environment.
Research from The Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, has found that taking a
skills perspective can lead to a broader array of possibilities for both job seekers and employers. However, making
these transitions happen may require different behaviours.
If job seekers want to move beyond the ‘usual suspects’ in their next job transition, they will need to highlight
their capabilities and not just their educational and/or experiential qualifications. Highlighting highly transferable
social and emotional skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, and social perceptiveness can make job
candidates more attractive.
Taking a skills approach can lead to a broader array of options for job seekers, but it isn’t always easy for someone
to move from one major job category to another. For example, there are few easy transitions for people looking to move
from manual or technical roles into management. However, many sales and service occupations are an important bridge to
different types of roles. In short, service jobs can help people develop the right skills for the next step in their
Similarly, employers looking to build, or rebuild, the skill-base of their workforce will find they have more options
if they look beyond traditional education credentials and experience requirements. Workers with the capabilities
employers seek may already be part of their existing workforce but identifying them may require employers to think
The explosion of online learning options, and the emergence of credible “micro-credential” qualifications and
certification pathways, are examples of how job seekers and prospective employers are becoming more adaptable in their
shared desire to find successful matches and outcomes. This pragmatic and organic move to a more capabilities-focused
approach to finding and filling job openings is, in no small part, a response to the ever-accelerating economic and
business operating environments that countries, companies, and workers find themselves in.
Employers needing to fill roles more quickly are unable to wait for certain skills to evolve their way into the
workforce. Job seekers need to be ready to quickly learn and document their proficiency with new skills and abilities
to remain relevant and essential. Similarly, governments need to provide nimble policies and regulations to ensure
that Canada has the skilled workforce it needs to compete in todays fast-paced, global labour market.
Enabling Canadians from all walks of life to build a promising career and employers to collectively develop an
advanced workforce are important national goals. Looking at occupations and job-options through a
characteristics-based framework rather than a traditional job title lens will help all stakeholders advance towards
Michael Burt is vice-president and Bryan Gormley is a principal economist at The Conference Board of Canada.