Removing Barriers for Canadians to Get the Career Skills They Need in COVID-19

#LetsContinYU Series

By William Griffiths


Prior to COVID-19, there was a Quiet Crisis in the Canadian workforce where there were not enough highly skilled people to fill in-demand technical positions. Now that we are in a pandemic-fuelled recession, with people working remotely and practicing physical distancing, the disruption of technology on the workforce is only accelerating the need to remove the skills barriers for Canadian workers.

“As the Canadian workplace responds to the extensive disruption of COVID-19 and anticipates the future of work, we need to ensure that Canadian companies have access to enough highly skilled workers to fill these in-demand jobs,” said Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, AVP of York University School of Continuing Studies.

Back in 2017, a report for the federal government outlined the size of the investment needed in workforce development to respond to technological disruption in Canada. They estimated that by 2030 10-12% of the workforce would face job loss without an investment in new formal qualifications.

To close the gap, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth estimated we needed to invest $15 billion a year in adult skill development. Instead, we got a $250 annual tax credit for individuals who take courses.

“To remove the skills barriers for Canadians we need to address that insufficiency around Federal incentives to lifelong learning. We should be advocating for upfront funding and we need it today” said Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, AVP of York University School of Continuing Studies.

The York University School of Continuing Studies certificate programs are designed with industry and tied to high-demand careers so that employers can find the skilled individuals to fill them.

While it’s still too early to fully capture the labour market impact of COVID-19, our early research suggests that employer demand has increased for people with Cloud Computing and Machine Learning skills. Many other technical fields including Cyber Security, Information Privacy, Digital Marketing, UX Design are saw a lower drop in hiring than other types of roles.

How Can We Work Together to Help the Canadian Economy During COVID-19?

As businesses slowly begin to reopen here in Ontario and across Canada, employers, universities, colleges and government must all work together to help the economy recover during and after COVID-19. Universities and colleges need to work differently with employers in terms of identifying the biggest skills gaps and how post-secondary institutions can work with them to fill those gaps. This could entail changing curricula and making sure students graduate with the technical skills and human skills they need to excel when they get into the workplace.

Government is key in these initiatives now more than ever, as it is apparent government help is essential to get through this. As the Fall semester approached, universities and colleges need to work with government to help establish a new normal for students. Schools have not seen government support yet, as much of governments responses have been focused on short-term, emergency funding. But this crisis has broken many barriers, brought people closer together and shown decisions and actions can be made very quickly. There is an opportunity for post-secondary heads and leadership to engage with federal and provincial governments and start discussions about how they can support universities and colleges during this time.