Our changing labour landscape


Examining the shifts in jobs and skills and helping younger generations prepare.


The world of work is changing in Canada—and across the globe. If you’ve been part of Canada’s workforce for quite some time, odds are you’ve likely witnessed some noticeable changes in both the “who” and “how” of work throughout the years. And depending on the industry or type of job, those shifts may have been even more pronounced over the last decade in particular, with transitioning population demographics and fast-paced advancements in technology.

From a sheer numbers standpoint, Millennials (those born between approximately 1980 and 1993) became the largest generation in the workforce in 2014, according to Statistics Canada. Since then, the labour representation of this age group has consistently increased year over year.1,2 While this significant population shift is a key part of the equation when it comes to transformations in Canada’s labour market (as are economic fluctuations), advancements in technology and automation have been—and continue to be—main drivers of change, creating unprecedented impacts, not only on the types and numbers of jobs that exist, but even more so on the skills needed to successfully carry out those roles.

The more recent and current pace of technological and digital progress is showing no signs of slowing, and the path ahead may be one of major overhaul across the Canadian job market. This is leaving many wondering what can be done to better prepare younger generations for these shifts and how best to equip children, teens and young adults with the skills they need for the future of work.

Understanding the transforming labour market

According to a forecast published by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), an estimated 2.4 million new jobs will be created between 2018 and 2021.3 While, holistically, that’s a promising number, it’s important to dig deeper and examine the impacts that technology and digital advancements, as well as social and economic change, may have on those jobs and the associated skills they require.

To gain better insight into these aspects, and to determine how to better assist younger generations as they step into the jobs of tomorrow, RBC recently conducted one of the largest-ever labour force data projects in Canada, and from that developed an eye-opening report, Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption. As part of this year-long project, researchers spoke with students, early stage workers, educators, policymakers and employers in every sector across the country. They also conducted in-depth assessments of more than 300 occupations and 20,000 skills, and of the expected 2.4 million job openings in the coming years, to determine the impacts technology and other disruptors may have and the solutions that may exist.

The impacts of automation

One of the main findings highlighted in the Humans Wanted report was that over the course of the next decade, half of all jobs will be disrupted to some degree by technology and automation, with some facing significant changes or requiring a new mix of skills, and some being eliminated altogether.

While for quite some time, technology has impacted certain jobs and how they are performed—think of manufacturing or assembly line work, for example—today’s technology advancements and the implementation of artificial intelligence are creating widespread change across sectors and industries at a level never experienced, and which many aren’t prepared for.

The speed of change is also making it difficult to predict what jobs will look like in future decades. Within the Humans Wanted report, findings suggest that because of this unpredictability, there needs to be a shift in job requirements and how they’re viewed, as well as how students prepare for their working years. In other words, instead of traditional job-specific requirements and training, the focus should instead be on developing human skills, notably critical thinking, communication, collaboration, social perceptiveness, problem solving and decision making. With more of a skills-based structure and focus as part of the educational and employment training frameworks, young people will then be better able to successfully move across sectors and between careers as needs, technology and job demands change.

Education, job specifics and skill building

When it comes to the connection between education and work, statistics show educational attainment plays an important role in securing future employment, as the employment rate for those between the ages of 25 and 44 who hold a post-secondary diploma or university degree is almost 90 percent (the employment rate for high-school graduates is just under 75 percent).4

At the same time, however, it’s important to recognize that amid a shifting labour market, many younger individuals are facing increasing challenges in finding meaningful employment, regardless of their level of education. Among all age groups, the unemployment rate remains the highest for those aged 15 to 24, and statistics also indicate that many of today’s graduates are underemployed.5 In fact, Statistics Canada says that one-quarter of post-secondary graduates end up in jobs they’re overqualified for, and they project that 15 percent of those who recently completed school will go into retail sales or food and beverage work, which accounts for only 8 percent of the job market and are more likely to be impacted by automation.6

According to the report data, across occupations (even those in different fields), there are connections in the foundational skills required. In making more of a shift towards skills-based learning and training, it stands to reason that younger individuals and those in the early stages of their careers will be better equipped to successfully fulfill a broader range of roles and to be flexible in their work trajectory, no matter what the labour market looks like.

What it comes down to then is finding ways to ensure that students and younger individuals have the tools and resources they need, from education systems, business organizations and government programs, to adapt and be properly prepared for this new era.

Perspectives of younger generations

In early 2018, the Government of Canada launched a national dialogue, as part of a consultation initiative that included over 10,000 Canadian youth, to start shaping the nation’s first-ever youth policy. They compiled the feedback and findings from those consultations in the What We Heard report, and notably, education and employment are two of youths’ top priorities across Canada. The report also notes, “Participants express a significant amount of anxiety and pessimism about the amount of economic opportunity for young people. From a quantitative standpoint, they worry about the number of jobs available to them. The quality of jobs is equally troubling, with many describing current or anticipated struggles with meeting expenses, such as rent and student loans re-payment, while working in Canada’s expanding and precarious ‘gig economy.’” (The gig economy is characterized as having more freelance, contract and temporary work rather than traditional full-time roles.)

This report goes on to note, “Some also believe that students would benefit from a closer ‘alignment’ between curricula and labour market needs, for example, through expanded opportunities for experiential learning (e.g. co-ops, internships, apprenticeships, work placements, summer job programs, business/entrepreneurial mentorships).”7

Find out more about the What We Heard report and the Government of Canada’s youth policy.

woman spreading arms facing a mountain range cliff

Actively preparing for the future of work

To support and equip younger individuals in this changing world of work, a number of Canadian educational institutions are making moves to bridge the current gaps that exist with more co-op and work-integrated learning opportunities, for example. Some are also looking to innovate in the programs that are currently available. As the Humans Wanted report summarizes, however, there’s still a great deal to do to help students adequately prepare for a skills-based economy and to help them understand their skills and how and where they may apply across tomorrow’s work landscape.

The Government of Canada has also recently launched Future Skills, which is an initiative that includes an investment of $225 million over four years and $75 million thereafter to accomplish the following mandates:

  • Examine major trends that will impact national and regional economies and workers
  • Identify emerging skills that are now and will be in demand in the future
  • Develop, test and evaluate new approaches to skills development
  • Share results and best practices across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to support broader use of innovative approaches in Canada8

This overall plan includes a Future Skills Council and a Future Skills Centre, and it was just announced in February of this year that Toronto Metropolitan University in Toronto, Ontario, has been selected to spearhead projects for this initiative.

Find out more about Future Skills.

RBC Future Launch

Recognizing the need to unlock and boost the potential of young people in Canada in a time of rapid change, in 2017 RBC initiated its largest-ever commitment to a social issue with RBC Future Launch, a 10-year, $500 million investment to help prepare youth for the jobs of tomorrow.

RBC Future Launch aims to address three critical barriers that young Canadians are currently facing: a lack of experience, a lack of relevant skills and a lack of professional networks. To help dismantle these barriers, RBC Future Launch actively seeks partnerships with companies and organizations and collaborates with government and educational institutions to increase access to work-integrated learning experiences, develop flexible skill sets and help youth grow their networks.

As an organization, RBC strives to help clients thrive and communities prosper. RBC Future Launch is an extension of this core purpose and creates an avenue for meaningful, positive change by working collaboratively with young people and youth-focused partners.

Find out more about RBC Future Launch.

Taking action

For students and young Canadians, the awareness piece is so important, and this is where parents, grandparents and other loved ones can also play a crucial role. If you have younger family members, consider taking proactive steps to help them learn about what resources and supports are available by researching the types of education or work-integrated learning programs that exist for careers they might pursue, or international learning opportunities to help them build globally competitive skills.

Learn more about the Government of Canada’s range of services and initiatives for young Canadians, including learning opportunities, work training, finding a job, managing money and contributing to your community.

At the local, regional and national levels, Canada is showing many examples of crucial steps in the right direction. That focus now needs to remain on ensuring they take place at a fast-enough pace and that the need for education and career development is met, so younger Canadians gain the skills and flexibility to successfully navigate the shifting landscape of work, now and in the future.

  1. “Millennials are now the biggest generation in the Canadian workforce.” Canadian Business website, accessed February 2019. https://www.canadianbusiness.com/innovation/the-millennial-majority-workforce/
  2. “Labour force characteristics by sex and detailed age group (annual (x 1,000).” Statistics Canada, accessed February 2019.
  3. Assessed by Employment and Social Development Canada and quoted in Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption , a report by Royal Bank of Canada, 2018, pp.3. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development.html
  4. “Labour force characteristics by educational attainment, monthly, unadjusted for seasonality.” Statistics Canada website. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1410001901&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.1&pickMembers%5B1%5D=2.10&pickMembers%5B2%5D=4.1&pickMembers%5B3%5D=5.4
  5. “Looking for work in Canada, 2017.” Release date: May 11, 2018. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2018015-eng.htm
  6. Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption , a report by Royal Bank of Canada, 2018, pp.34.
  7. Building a Youth Policy for Canada – What We Heard, Government of Canada report, last modified December 7, 2018. https://www.canada.ca/en/youth/corporate/transparency/what-we-heard.html
  8. Future Skills. Government of Canada website. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/future-skills.html

This document has been prepared for use by the RBC Wealth Management member companies, RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (RBC DS)*, RBC Phillips, Hager & North Investment Counsel Inc. (RBC PH&N IC), RBC Global Asset Management Inc. (RBC GAM), Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company (collectively, the “Companies”) and their affiliates, RBC Direct Investing Inc. (RBC DI) *, RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. (RBC WMFS) and Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). *Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund. Each of the Companies, their affiliates and the Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. “RBC advisor” refers to Private Bankers who are employees of Royal Bank of Canada and mutual fund representatives of RMFI, Investment Counsellors who are employees of RBC PH&N IC, Senior Trust Advisors and Trust Officers who are employees of The Royal Trust Company or Royal Trust Corporation of Canada, or Investment Advisors who are employees of RBC DS. In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RMFI or RBC WMFS and each is licensed as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RMFI or RBC DS. Estate and trust services are provided by Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company. If specific products or services are not offered by one of the Companies or RMFI, clients may request a referral to another RBC partner. Insurance products are offered through RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc., a subsidiary of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. When providing life insurance products in all provinces except Quebec, Investment Advisors are acting as Insurance Representatives of RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. In Quebec, Investment Advisors are acting as Financial Security Advisors of RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. is licensed as a financial services firm in the province of Quebec. The strategies, advice and technical content in this publication are provided for the general guidance and benefit of our clients, based on information believed to be accurate and complete, but we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. This publication is not intended as nor does it constitute tax or legal advice. Readers should consult a qualified legal, tax or other professional advisor when planning to implement a strategy. This will ensure that their individual circumstances have been considered properly and that action is taken on the latest available information. Interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change. This information is not investment advice and should only be used in conjunction with a discussion with your RBC advisor. None of the Companies, RMFI, RBC WMFS, RBC DI, Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates or any other person accepts any liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this report or the information contained herein.

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