Canada’s approach to securing the right skills for the future of work through social dialogue

By the Global Deal Support Unit

In a changing labour market, workers will come under increased pressure to adapt to the skills needs of the future. A new Global Deal good practice case study illustrates Canada’s approach to securing the right skills for the future of work and demonstrates that social dialogue contributes to building a dynamic, agile workforce that anticipates and responds to labour market needs.  

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In addition to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, automation and other megatrends, such as technological innovation, the transition to a low-carbon economy, and changes in demographics, are disrupting labour markets and causing skills shortages and surpluses. While these transformations present both challenges and opportunities, workers have come under increased pressure to adapt and consolidate their skills for the future of work.

In this context, it is crucial to ensure that effective skills development systems and lifelong learning policies take into account the ongoing changes in skill needs and support workers, particularly the most vulnerable ones, in their transitions to new jobs and sectors. Social dialogue, through the contribution of representative employers’ and workers’ organisations, has a central role to play in this process. Social partners can support the design, development and implementation of lifelong learning and skills development policies and programmes. Trade unions and employers can also work with governments to develop and deliver workplace training, as well as to assist workers who become unemployed and have difficulties finding sustainable employment in the same occupation and industry.

A new Global Deal good practice case study describes Canada’s approach to securing the right skills for the future by leveraging social dialogue and the contribution of social partners. In 2019, the Government of Canada established the Future Skills Council, a ministerial advisory body made up of multi-sectoral representatives involved in workforce skills development, as well as the Future Skills Centre, an applied organisation that supports projects in the areas of skills research and skills delivery. These initiatives are complementary and their work demonstrates how social dialogue can inform and contribute to the development of a comprehensive skills agenda, in the context of significant geographic, economic, and demographic diversity.

The Global Deal good practice case study identifies four specific lessons learned which can serve as an inspiration for governments and stakeholders interested in unlocking the potential of social dialogue to build a dynamic and agile workforce for the future.

1. Invite all stakeholders to the table. Canada’s experience emphasises the value of inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogue for skills policy coordination. The Future Skills Council brings together the views of stakeholders involved in workforce skills development, including employers, workers, and governments, as well as non-profit groups, and representatives from the education sector. Similarly, the Future Skills Centre promotes a multi-stakeholder approach and encourages partnerships by business, labour and other actors working on the topic of skills. This inclusive approach aims at closing labour market gaps by addressing the needs of the most vulnerable individuals in the labour market.

2. Social dialogue can foster skills policy coordination while remaining flexible. The Future Skills Council provides advice on emerging skills and workforce trends, and identifies priorities and possible directions for the future. The Centre, meanwhile, tests innovative solutions to help prepare the workforce for the future. This dual approach has already led to the development of a pan-Canadian skills agenda and a vibrant environment where key actors engage in skills and workforce training delivery, exchange views through ongoing dialogue, and respond to future challenges and needs as they emerge. All while maintaining operational flexibility.

3. Skills preparation requires action at the national, regional, and local levels. Labour market trends and the skills landscape can vary regionally, and may depend on whether a region is rural or urban, among other factors. Workers have different skill needs, depending on where they are with their careers. Through social dialogue, Canada’s Council and Centre provide an approach aimed at systematically involving governments, trade unions and employers, as well as other key actors at the national, regional, and local levels, with the objective to co-determine and implement an agenda around future skills in the country. This ensures that needs and priorities at the local level can become part of the national dialogue about future skills, and has led to collaborative efforts seeking to address skills needs.

4. Skills as a starting point to build trust and expand social dialogue. The Centre and the Council have embedded social dialogue as part of the process of identifying future skills needs and preparing the Canadian workforce. This approach helps building a sound industrial relations framework, fostering trust in governments and social dialogue institutions, and contributes to creating an enabling environment for meaningful dialogue. This experience could be extended to other realms of workplace governance.

To read the new case study on Canada’s Future Skills Council and Centre, visit the Global Deal repository of good practices, which features examples of effective and innovative experiences in the area of social dialogue.


References

Employment and Social Development Canada (2020). Canada – A Learning Nation: A Skilled, Agile Workforce Ready to Shape the Future.

Global Deal (2021), Securing the Right Skills for the Future of Work through Social Dialogue: Canada’s Future Skills.

Global Deal (2020), The Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth Flagship Report 2020: Social Dialogue, Skills and Covid-19.

OECD (2020), Workforce Innovation to Foster Positive Learning Environments in Canada.


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