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Taking action to overcome the skills challenge

October 20, 2020
By Jennifer Roynon

(tippapatt/Adobe Stock)

Employment across Canada has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many cities and provinces enter a second wave, the strong job gains we saw in the summer are not enough to offset the effects on our economy.

And as people look for new jobs, they are discovering a skill mismatch — a discrepancy in the skills that are sought by employers and those that are possessed by jobseekers.

A 2019 study from the IBM Institute for Business Value suggests that in the next three years, nearly 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be retrained as businesses adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies.


With innovation at its peak and new technologies being developed by the hour, the time it takes to close a skills gap is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

Importance of soft skills

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has disrupted not just jobs, but careers.

While digital skills remain vital, what we’ve heard from hiring managers and executives across the country is that soft skills have surpassed them in importance.

For organizations that place a laser focus on critical thinking skills, up-skilling and re-skilling employees encourages continuous learning to help build high-demand skills — whether they are re-skilling and learning an entirely new set of skills, or up-skilling and expanding their knowledge base.

This past summer, IBM launched SkillsBuild Reignite, a free learning and workplace readiness platform with 7,000 online classes that seeks to provide skills retraining to technical and non-technical jobseekers.

By August, there were 30,000 enrollees in 15 countries, including France, Germany, U.K., India, Turkey, Israel, Canada, Australia and Japan.

And as of this month, Canadians have logged over 1,000 hours of learning since the launch of the platform this summer.

Designed to help in rebuilding our local economy, SkillsBuild Reignite was created to support jobseekers navigate this new and unexpected job market.

Whether it’s exploring IT fields like cybersecurity and blockchain or learning how digital teams apply agile methods and design thinking, jobseekers can take online courses to gain skills that they may not have otherwise had access to.

Given the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses and entrepreneurs, the content on the platform has been enhanced to provide tools and resources that will support business recovery and digital transformation.

Rapid technological change

COVID-19 is by no means a lone actor.

The approach to education and skills development requires a thoughtful and marked change starting at a young age.

In a recent survey commissioned by IBM in partnership with Morning Consult, Canadian high school-aged students were asked about their interests in emerging technology fields like AI, cybersecurity and cloud.

Over half of Canadian students said they were interested in pursuing a career in technology because most jobs will require technology. In addition, nearly three quarters of Canadian students believe basic computer and software skills are necessary to work in the field of technology and 68 per cent said critical thinking is necessary.

Because of advances in technology, the world is changing more rapidly than ever before.

People used to have five jobs. Now they have five careers.

The ability to be agile is increasingly important, because technical skills are growing and simultaneously becoming obsolete. By the time many students graduate, they will need to be adaptable to different careers or skills than they studied.

AI is not just computer science in a classroom. It is relevant in every career field. The more we’re able to develop a strong foundation for students and educators in STEM fields, the better we can enhance computational thinking.

It’s time to stop talking about the pipeline of talent and start building it.

Whether it’s business and digital strategy, financial literacy or strategies on social media and e-commerce, the tools exist to bring jobseekers into the digital age.

We must seek out innovative training strategies, break out of the traditional hiring practices and build a culture of continuous learning.

Skilled communities can fuel our local economy, and by investing in continuous talent development we will nurture the human capital needed to redefine industries and recover our economy.

Jennifer Roynon is a corporate social responsibility lead with IBM Canada in Toronto.

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