Jul 23, 2019



In the coming decades millions of occupations around the world will be created, reconfigured, upgraded, and retired as more countries participate in the global knowledge economy. Within Canada, enterprising organizations committed to enhancing their near-term productivity and competitiveness will face enormous pressure to synchronize their human capital development with the 21st century skills revolution. Analyzing these challenges from an integrated perspective is conducive to the design of an effective skills strategy.  

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Canada ranks fifth in terms of the global delivery of future skills education. However, many core assumptions about the organization and valuation of work, data collection and interpretation, and jobs-skills match-making will need to be examined in the context of the global risk environment. Recognizing the converging forces that are shaping the global knowledge economy is the first step to achieving a qualitatively different stage of economic and social development.   


  • Canada’s social and economic security depends on a long-term vision for how it will compete successfully in the global knowledge economy. Long-range forecasts about the future of work, both in Canada and abroad, include a spectrum of perspectives ranging from the utopian to the dystopian. The preoccupation with global or national economic trends often obscures local developments, creating critical knowledge gaps about labour shortages, worker mobility patterns, and skills mismatches. 
  • Canada’s relatively small and aging population base means that large and medium-sized cities will have to become significantly more innovative if the country is to improve its global competitiveness ranking. To accommodate the rapid growth of next-generation cities and innovation corridors, Canada needs to create multidisciplinary learning environments that remain conducive to knowledge “spill-over” effects as well as the development of entirely new cognitive, behavioral, and institutional capabilities.  
  • Data interoperability, open data governance, and interdisciplinary research approaches are key to strengthening the adaptive capacity of Canada’s “hard” and “soft” infrastructures in addition to  optimizing the human-technology interface. To that end, the federal government has committed to invest $225 million over four years, as well as $75 million in each following year, to a Future Skills plan. These investments are augmented by novel attempts to gain more granular insights about the inclusiveness of Canadian cities and how to make them more interesting places to work and live


  • Demographic, economic, technological, and environmental disruptions will raise the demand for “actionable” intelligence concerning the growth of strategic economic sectors (ie., cybersecurity, life sciences, renewable energy, the circular economy), the geographic distribution of “super jobs,” and the market value of cognitive skills.  
  • Matching qualified candidates with high-value jobs is complicated. Canada currently has about 500,000 full-time job vacancies at a time of escalating retirements. The domestic workforce is also projected to grow by 500,000 young people and 120,000 immigrants between 2015 and 2024. Synchronizing these diverse trends poses a challenges due to a lack of detailed labour market information.    
  • Individual learning will soon become a life-long commitment as professional knowledge workers rotate in and out of different careers, adapting and responding to changes in the global workforce structure. Because most learning is social, effective knowledge exchanges are likely to cluster around interactive engagement processes (ie., job density).  
  • Urban economic innovation will also hinge on the ability to scale-up human-centred technologies (ie., civic technology) and to scale-down information asymmetries (ie. skills required vs skills supplied). 


Preparing today’s workforce for tomorrow’s knowledge economy will have consequential outcomes for successive generations. In a dynamic and technologically-mediated operating environment, municipal leaders must resist the temptation to implement quick-fixes and over-engineered policy solutions. It is also advisable that urban planners think purposefully about the next-generation institutions and workforce competencies that Canada needs to thrive in the 21st century knowledge economy. 

Urban Dispatch summarizes and clarifies contemporary city-related trends, strategic management issues, and research questions. It is intended to provide VSIR clients and interested readers with relevant insights for use in making timely and informed decisions. Vancouver Strategic & Integrated Research is a catalyst for agile thinking and organizational learning. Further research and analysis of the issues discussed in the Urban Dispatch series is available upon request. Please forward any correspondence to grant@vancouverstrategicresearch.ca.   

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