Report: Canadian youth face risk of unemployment as entry-level jobs are replaced by automation

A recent report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in partnership with RBC, suggest that youth must be equipped with a broader suite of technical and soft skills to remain competitive in a changing workforce.

The report, Future-proof: Preparing young Canadians for the future of work provides information from a number of studies and research papers, including the Brookfield Institute’s study on the impact of automation on the future of employment in Canada. The objective of the Future-proof report is to address how tech trends like automation, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated software will impact the future of work, specifically for youth.

“There is a critical need to prepare our youth so that they may adapt and overcome barriers and secure a productive future for Canada.”

There have been many conversations on the grassroots and institutional level on the impact of artificial intelligence on businesses and the implications automation will have on the Canadian job market. A #DMZSession in December 2016 focused on how jobs in fields like office support and general administration, sales, and transportation are at a high risk of being automated, suggesting a critical need to prepare for changes automation will bring to the workforce.

The Brookfield Institute’s report stresses that among those that need to prepare for these changes most are Canada’s youth. The report finds that youth, ages 15 to 24, are one of the population segments that are most likely to experience changes in job roles and skill demand due to automation and they make up nearly 20 percent of employees that have a high-risk of being impacted by automation.

The report suggests this is because entry-level positions are often at a high risk of being impacted by automation, and these positions are typically staffed by youth. “This is of particular concern because these positions enable youth to acquire the skills and experience necessary to eventually enter the higher-paying, lower-risk jobs,” the report reads.

In addition to the growing impact of automation, the report reveals that Canadian youth are facing several other challenges when it comes to entering the job market, such as underemployment and constantly having to sift through part-time and precarious jobs.

“This is an opportunity as well as a challenge,” the report reads. “Freelancing can provide more flexibility and job experience to highly skilled workers, which can, in some cases, help youth transition into full-time employment, if they so choose. It also means increased uncertainty and working without some employment benefits that have yet to catch up to this new reality.”

The Institute report also looks at whether youth feel “adequately prepared” for Canada’s evolving workforce. While 83 percent of education providers said they feel youth are adequately prepared for the workforce, only 44 percent of youth and 34 percent of employers agreed with this.

“Recent graduates face the paradox of needing experience to get a job and needing a job to get experience.”

This suggests a critical need to better prepare youth for Canada’s changing workforce, both through post-secondary education and workplace training programs. The federal governmen taking a step towards this by encouraging youth to get more involved in co-op programs and tech careers. In this year’s budget, the federal government announced that it is investing $73 million to support new co-op and integrated learning opportunities for companies in in-demand fields.

“Given the increasingly complex set of skill requirements for jobs across the economy, it is not surprising that formal education alone cannot equip youth with all that they need to be successful,” the report reads. “Recent graduates face the paradox of needing experience to get a job and needing a job to get experience. Despite possessing relevant hard skills, they often lack the soft skills and work experience that employers are seeking.”

To compete for the jobs of the future, the Institute report indicates that Canada’s youth will need to build a diverse set of technical and soft skills including creativity, problem-solving, social intelligence, as well as entrepreneurial abilities like managing uncertainty and taking risks. Employers may also need to play a stronger role in providing workplace relevant training programs that complement post-secondary education, the report adds.

Overall, the report stresses that government leaders, policy-makers, educators, employers, and youth themselves need to continue understanding the barriers youth face when entering the workforce and build solutions that will better prepare them for the next generation of jobs.

“While Canada’s youth are well-educated and well-equipped to adapt to the rapidly changing future of work, not all segments of the population will experience these technological trends equally,” said Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “There a critical need to prepare our youth so that they may adapt and overcome barriers and secure a productive future for Canada.”

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer at BetaKit. As a fourth-year journalism student who has written primarily about entrepreneurship, Amira has developed a growing interest in Canadian startup, business, and tech news. In her free time, Amira enjoys reading, baking and watching legal shows.