Brookfield Institute: Retraining for workers could mitigate negative impact of automation

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A new report by the Brookfield Institute suggests solutions for addressing the challenge of improving technological adoption among businesses, while mitigating the effects of automation on works.

The report, Better, Faster, Stronger: Maximizing the benefits of automation for Ontario’s firms and people, provides an overview of the risks and rewards of automation for Ontario’s workforce, factors that help or inhibit adoption of technology, and implications for workers whose jobs could be impacted by automation.

It builds on a previous report by the Brookfield Institute, which found that people aged 15 to 24 are one of the population segments most likely to experience changes in job roles and skills demand due to automation.

The report is based on data, literature, and interviews with over 50 stakeholders from Ontario’s manufacturing, finance, and insurance sectors. Its findings are also formed by an expert advisory panel of 14 individuals with technology, academic, and industry expertise.

“Ontario faces a dual challenge: to improve tech adoption to remain competitive, while at the same time ensuring vulnerable workers don’t get left behind,” said Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute. “Ultimately, firm and worker success are closely intertwined. Neither can succeed without the other.”

“Ontario faces a dual challenge: to improve tech adoption to remain competitive, while at the same time ensuring vulnerable workers don’t get left behind.”
– Sean Mullin, executive director

When it comes to technological adoption, the report found that if Ontario businesses are slow to adopt and use technology, this may create a large risk for both workers and businesses. In Ontario, lower rates of technological adoption compared to international competitors could put employees and firms at risk. For example, the report indicated that amongst Ontario manufacturers, there was a 5.5 percent drop in employment from 2001 to 2011. The US and Germany, which had higher rates of tech adoption, saw manufacturing employment drop by only 4.2 and 4 percent, respectively.

While slow adoption of technology can have a significant impact on employees, the report suggests that this impact depends on businesses’ decisions to automate and their decisions to retrain, redeploy, or lay off workers.

When firms automate, the impact on workers is influenced by a number of factors such as demographic characteristics, the concentration of job disruption on a particular region or sector, as well as opportunities available to transition to other jobs. “These factors should be considered when designing initiatives to help workers and job seekers adjust to the changes brought about by automation,” the report reads.

Along with analyzing the impact of automation on businesses and workers, the Brookfield Institute report emphasizes the importance of identifying what opportunities might exist for workers displaced by automation.

“Decision-makers in the public, private, and non-profit sectors will need to collaborate to advance technological adoption.”

Specifically, the report suggests considering retraining pathways open to workers, which may include upskilling within existing jobs, longer retraining pathways to completely different jobs in high-growth industries, or shorter pathways to jobs with similar skills, experience, and credential requirements that require minimal additional training.

“By opening up pathways to higher education, experiential learning, and career development, we’re sending a message to the people of Ontario,” said Mitzie Hunter, minister of advanced education and skills development. “You can be the driving force of innovation and automation, finding good jobs and countless opportunities along the way.”

Overall, the report suggests that tackling the challenges created by automation in Ontario require a “dual response.”

“Decision-makers in the public, private, and non-profit sectors will need to collaborate to advance technological adoption, while ensuring that workers have the skills, knowledge, and tools to adapt in the face of change and to realize their potential role in driving innovation and prosperity in the province,” the report reads.

Read the full report here.

Photo via Burst.

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer and content creator at BetaKit with a strong interest in Canadian startup, business, and legal tech news. In her free time, Amira indulges in baking desserts, working out, and watching legal shows.