We need to change our focus

Jim Cumming

We look at technology as good for advancing productivity while reducing costs. Already robots and sophisticated machinery are eliminating many jobs in manufacturing. Technology has eliminated many cashiers at checkouts in grocery stores and wait staff at many counters of fast food restaurants across Canada.

Technology now makes it possible to remove underground miners so that they can perform their jobs on the surface and often away from the mine. Just as mechanization changed the way trees were harvested in the forests, so too will robot trucks change the way wood is transported to the mills and how the products are moved to lumber yards across the Canada.

A recent study by Brookfield Institute finds that nearly 42% of the Canadian labour force is at risk of being affected by automation in the coming decade. The study found that occupations with the highest risk of being affected tend to be more routine, administrative and service oriented. The study suggests that 42% of work activities that Canadians are paid for can be automated using existing technologies.

The Brookfield Institute found that cities and town that were least susceptible to automation are those with a high proportion of employment in health care and educational services. The percentage of people employed in cognitive and analytical occupations has grown from 34.2% in 1991 to 42.8% in 2016, while more routine manual jobs have declined from 45.8% in 1991 to 37.6% in 2016. Today, more women have moved more into non-routine cognitive jobs by a significant amount.

The Northern Policy Institute indicates that 23.8% of jobs in Northwestern Ontario are at risk of being lost to automation out of a total of 98,100 jobs that existed in 2016. Automation may not decrease the population, but may in fact create new types of jobs requiring more cognitive and analytical occupations.

The challenge to communities, colleges and universities is that they must attract businesses and industries using those skills to grow and prosper. Often those opportunities are created in small businesses such as engineering and architectural firms or health and care specialists catering to an aging population.