As published on LinkedIn

Last week I wrote about the importance of making plans. With COVID-19 case counts falling, now is the time to talk about the kind of future we want for our country. I outlined four key pillars that must be part of any forward-looking strategy: people, capital, ideas and sustainability. Over the next four weeks I’ll expand on those pillars, beginning with people.

We hear it all the time because it’s true: people are Canada’s greatest strength.

Our country is blessed with an incredibly diverse and well-educated population. Canadians are resilient in the face of adversity. We look out for one another, and we use our creativity and knowledge to tackle big challenges.

We have seen the Canadian spirit in action over the past 16 months as neighbours, friends and strangers have come together to help one another through the pandemic. And we are witnessing that sense of community right now as Canadians in unprecedented numbers get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But like any important resource, Canada’s human capital needs care and nurturing … now more than ever.

The pandemic imposed new stresses and strains on the country’s workforce. Working parents continue to struggle with uncertainty around school closures and the availability of child care. Many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic need retraining to get back into the labour force. Low-wage, immigrant and racialized workers have been disproportionately affected. And COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of Canadians.

All of this is playing out against the inescapable backdrop of an aging population. A smaller workforce weakens economic growth and makes it harder for employers to find the people they need to expand and grow. It also puts pressure on government spending, especially in areas such as health care and support for the elderly.

To ensure a healthy, equitable and sustainable economy now and in the future, we must take action to support Canada’s workforce. 

Here are four ways we can do that:

1. Child care

The pandemic shone a spotlight on something most parents already knew: Canadian families need more accessible, reliable and affordable early learning and child care services. Many parents, especially women, bore additional family care responsibilities due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some were forced to cut back on paid working hours, while others had to drop out of the labour force entirely.

While some progress has been made recently to address this issue, there is much more to do. Employers, labour groups and governments must work together to develop responsive policies that ensure parents can maintain meaningful careers while raising a family. Measures that help more parents to participate fully in the workforce will strengthen gender equity, improve household finances, and support economic recovery.

2. Skills for the future

Finding skilled talent has long been a priority for many of Canada’s top employers. The pandemic only magnified those concerns.

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Take for example digital skills. As Shannon Leininger, President of Cisco Canada, recently wrote: “It’s no secret that Canada has been facing a digital skills shortage, with demand for talent far outstripping our supply.”

A growing number of employers are investing in retraining initiatives and so-called “micro-credentialling” programs that are designed to train prospective employees and improve the skills of existing workers. Microsoft’s Canada Skills Program, Google Canada’s support of digital skills training and D2L’s employee upskilling platform Wave are three of many examples.

Other organizations, such as Toronto-based Palette Skills, are helping workers who have been displaced from long-established industries find opportunities in fast-growing sectors.

It’s a great start. Federal, provincial and territorial governments should be working closely with employers to ensure success for everyone in Canada who wants a job.

3. Diversity in the workplace

For the sake of fairness as well as the health of our economy, Canada must strive to increase labour force participation rates across all segments of the population. That includes expanding opportunities for racialized individuals, Indigenous peoples and disabled Canadians.

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Canada’s leading employers recognize the importance of ensuring their workplaces are open and welcoming to all. Efforts such as the BlackNorth Initiative, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, are helping companies define and work toward ambitious goals.

New immigrants often struggle to have their foreign credentials recognized by professional associations in Canada. The smoother we can make that transition, the more we can all benefit from newcomers’ skills and education.

4. Addressing health and well-being

Every month, LifeWorks, a human resources consulting company, conducts a mental health survey in Canada. For 14 consecutive months it has tracked a negative mental health score among Canadians. Many researchers worry about a post-pandemic “fourth wave” of declining mental health and well-being.

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We must all be sensitive to the psychological toll the pandemic has taken on family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. And we all need to do our part to help one another at a time of rapid economic and social change. Many Canadian businesses have made this a priority – Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” initiatives being a prime example.

The pandemic has also influenced attitudes toward the workplace and work-life balance. In response, employers are developing new and more flexible workplace models – including remote and hybrid options – to ensure a healthy, productive and welcoming environment for all.

Final thoughts:

Putting people first is essential to ensure a sustainable recovery from the health crisis. It’s time to double down on our shared commitment to building the world’s smartest, most diverse and most connected workforce.

Let’s make sure everyone, from every walk of life, has the opportunity and the skills to achieve their full potential.

Next week, I’ll discuss how we can build a more resilient country by creating an environment that encourages employers to grow and expand in Canada.