The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted labour markets and education, and now, as it enters its third year, we are seeing the acceleration of a workplace evolution that started long before the pandemic began.

Automation and digitization are redefining the skills needed for modern work. Ambitious plans to transition to a green economy are creating additional challenges. Disruptions of supply chains, further fueled by international instability as well as fast-growing inflation, risk putting an already fragile post-pandemic world economy into recession. The future is highly uncertain for Canadians, many of whom have already been severely hit by the pandemic and are struggling to emerge from it.

Natalia Mishagina, a research director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy and head of the IRPP’s Future of Skills and Adult Learning research program, is the guest editor for this Policy Options series, which examines the evolution of the modern workplace and the needs of Canadians trying to fit into it. Uncertainty exacerbates longstanding inequities. A range of experts focus on some of the population groups hardest hit by those challenges, including Inuit communities and immigrants and youth.

They also examine how small- and medium-sized businesses, which represent the majority of employers in Canada, are adapting to the disruption brought by global events, digitization and automation. What will it take to support the development of green sectors? How are digital skills and micro-credentials entering the education and employment landscapes? What does job quality mean in a post-pandemic world?

Continuing skills development, or lifelong learning, will help empower Canadians to weather challenges and profit from the opportunities brought about by economic and social transformations. It also encourages them become active and informed citizens and can improve their personal and family well-being as they make better decisions in many aspects of life, such as health, and instill a culture of learning in their children.

As our society evolves, so should the systems that deliver education and training to adults, who are well beyond school age and have work and family responsibilities. Such systems must become more responsive and flexible to address the ever-changing needs of working-age adults. At the same time, we need better policies that ensure fair and equal access to learning, especially for those who can benefit the most.

Financial support for this series was provided in part by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre.  

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