The New Economy Will Require More Than Technical Skills

Tuesday, June 26, 2018
by Feridun Hamdullahpur

Teamwork and communications are essential skills

“We discovered a quiet crisis,” writes Dave McKay, President and CEO of RBC and University of Waterloo alumnus.

Haunting words from an industry leader.

Mr. McKay’s warning came in his message in the RBC report entitled Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption. The report is a fascinating assessment of youth and skills development that details the state of the Canadian workforce and its ability to adapt to a new economy dominated by disruptive technology like AI and automation.

Technology and automation are already having an unprecedented impact on our current working world the likes we have not seen since the Industrial Revolution. Industries are already being upended, the nature of work is evolving and only the most agile nations stand to adjust and thrive during and after these changes. These are not what-ifs, they are inevitabilities.

The findings in RBC’s report, and the sentiments of its CEO (a proud University of Waterloo alumnus), describe a future clouded in uncertainty. I can’t help but feel excited for the possibilities, however. Though it would be easy to get bogged down by the challenges, I think we must see them as opportunities to shape Canada’s future. And universities will play a fundamental role in preparing our citizens to remain competitive.

RBC’s report repeatedly stresses the threat of technological disruption arguing that jobs with higher levels of critical thinking and that require more years of education will be safer from the radical impacts of technology. As the most innovative post-secondary institution, this will be no surprise to people at the University of Waterloo. We also know it is, albeit critical and essential, only part of the equation.

Wanted: Leaders

Canada cannot solely focus on developing the technical skills to compete in this new future. We do not need cogs in a machine. We need creative minds who can create entire new machines.

We must instill the skills in our students that go beyond the subject-knowledge developed in the classroom. That knowledge will only take us so far. Instead, we must foster leaders.

For Canada to take the lead in the new economy, we must broaden what it means to be a leader in one’s field. And, this definition doesn’t begin and end with technical skills alone.

We need our future workers to be creative, collaborative, critical thinkers and communicative. These skills are ones you develop from doing, exploring, and working with others. In short, this is what experiential education through co-op can do for students.

Wanted: Lifelong Learners

Fifty per cent of occupations will undergo a significant skills overhaul in the coming years, according to RBC. That means half of the working population will need to adjust to these changes or risk being left behind.

Our citizens also need to learn to keep learning. If you receive an excellent post-secondary education at an institution like the University of Waterloo, you cannot let that degree be the end of your education journey. As time moves forward, so do the skills needed to remain competitive.

Studying for a graduate degree is always an option to develop your skills but is not the only avenue. Upskilling does not always take the form of a formalized course. Opportunities to develop new knowledge and skills can take many forms.

Education must remain a lifelong passion and habit for us all. It cannot be something you do once and walk away. A diploma, degree or doctorate are well earned milestones, but should only be viewed as that, milestones. Not the end of your journey.

I challenge you to expand your experiences. Talk to a peer in another discipline. Consider taking part in an international exchange. Ask a colleague to train you on something they are an authority in. Volunteer for an organization you are passionate about. These are only a few of the ways that you can continue learning long into your career.

Technology, global trends, and economies are always changing. We must learn to adapt how we learn and what skills we develop. There may be a crisis brewing, but it is a crisis we can and will meet head on.