With the rapid growth of automation and technological advancement, the skills and competencies required across British Columbia’s economic development regions are evolving. As the province shifts towards a more digital, knowledge-based economy, it is important to consider the development of BC’s labour force. While there are a number of initiatives targeting the next generation of workers, few supports sufficiently address the needs of mid-career workers in medium-skill occupations, who are more likely to experience challenges in adapting to changing job requirements. The purpose of this study is to determine the role the provincial government can play in building labour market resilience among this group. Using a case-study analysis as the primary research methodology, this study evaluates public employment supports in Ontario, Québec and Australia to identify policy options that may aid in streamlining job-transitions in BC.
Option 1: Create an Interactive Tool for Identifying Job Transitions and Reskilling Pathways
Option 2: Expand the Eligibility Criteria of Existing Supports
Option 3: Legislate Employer Investment in Training
While the impact of automation appears to have been relatively gradual to date, this study has highlighted the historically disruptive nature of automation and technological change on labour markets in BC and around the world. Moreover, structural trends, such as the mill closures and shift curtailments in the forestry sector, and global shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic have had significant impacts on the local labour market. This illustrates that despite BC’s strong economic record, the local economy is not immune to emerging trends and global shocks.
In this context, it is important that the labour force is supported in their efforts to transfer their skills to comparable employment, or upgrade their skills for evolving job requirements, skills and competencies required for the future of work. Therefore, the recommendations in this study are designed to address the gap in public supports available for mid-career workers in medium-skill occupations, while also building overall labour force resilience and adaptability.
Addressing the gap in public supports for the target demographic, however, is only a start. A notable limitation of this study has been the lack of adequate outcome- based evaluations of BC employment and training programs.
Building on the theme of improved labour market information, the BC government will also need to ensure that the employment and training programs targeting members of the current labour force are better evaluated on outcomes and overall effectiveness.
Moreover, while governments can encourage businesses to support reskilling and upskilling their current staff, ultimately, the decision is up to each employer. Further research should consider also consider the outcomes of public training supports from the employer’s perspective. As Cukier (2020) has recently noted, the “ROI and intended and unintended consequences […] need to be better measured in order to understand the extent to which reskilling reduces the needs for layoffs.” This data could also be used to increase uptake of existing programs in promotional material.