Most Canadians report feeling positive about technology’s impact on their work, according to recent web survey
A majority of Canadian workers think new technologies have changed the way they do their jobs for the better, according to a skills and employment survey released earlier this month.
The survey, which was conducted by the Environics Institute in partnership with the Future Skills Centre and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, engaged 5,000 Canadians over the age of 18 between Feb. 28 and April 4.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents said that over the past five years new computer or information technologies have changed the way they do their jobs. Most surveyed report that these changes made their job more enjoyable and easier. Another 30 per cent said the changes resulted in better pay and more job security, suggesting that — at least thus far — new technologies have had a mostly positive impact on Canadian workers.
“We tend to see headlines which frame the advent of new technologies in the workplace as threats to workers,” said Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre. “What we’re actually hearing is the opposite, that technology can be an enabler, it can be an enhancer.”
Fifty five per cent of workers surveyed reported that new technologies made their job more enjoyable, while 59 per cent said it made their work easier.
The survey notes that there is an “absence of consensus” surrounding the potential impact of new technologies on employment. “Some (reports) have predicted dramatic job losses, while others have concluded that workers will quickly adapt and that employment opportunities in new high-tech businesses will outweigh losses in those that become obsolete,” according to the report released in conjunction with the survey.
Barata noted that, “projections around the impact of technology on jobs are… for the most part showing that robots are not going to replace humans anytime soon.”
Only 18 per cent of respondents said new technologies have made their job less enjoyable, while 17 per cent reported that tech had increased their job’s difficulty.
Even though few respondents reported that technological change has had a negative impact on the way they do their jobs, when asked directly, 71 per cent acknowledged the potential connection between technological change and unemployment.
Workers also view the benefits of new technologies with increased skepticism, per the survey. When compared to a similar survey conducted in 1985, it found the proportion of Canadians who say that the introduction of more automation and new workplace tech will lead to a stronger economy or lower prices for consumers has “fallen significantly.”
Wendy Cukier, the founder and director of the Diversity Institute, highlighted that new workplace technologies have increased the gap between high skill, high wage workers and low skill, low wage workers in Canada.
“Low skill, low wage jobs are the ones most likely to face disruption due to technological change as repetitive and easily-automatable jobs get replaced,” said Cukier. Since women are more likely than men to work in these sorts of jobs, “we can take away that women are overrepresented in jobs that are at risk of automation,” she said.
The survey also found that racialized Canadians were more likely than white Canadians to report that technology has introduced both better pay and worse pay at work, as well as both increasing and reducing job security. This is because racialized Canadians are overrepresented in both high skill, high wage jobs and low wage, low skill precarious employment.
“This underlines the importance of not overgeneralizing about the experience of different types of workers, including racialized workers in Canada,” stated the report.
“The diversity of experiences of people in this (racialized) category suggests the need for more disaggregated data to gain a better understanding of how racialized people at the intersection of various factors such as ethnic identity, country of origin, and socioeconomic status experience the perception and reality of technology differently,” said Cukier.
For most Canadian workers, technological change is currently being experienced as “the norm” not as “a disruption,” said Andrew Parkin, the executive director of the Environics Institute.
Parkin thinks one of the survey’s most important takeaways is that Canada needs to do a better job of ensuring job skills training reaches the people who need it the most: those less frequently employed.
“How do we make sure that people who are going to need the most help adapting are the ones who actually get that help?” asked Parkin. “That’s an easy thing to say, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Access to skills training can determine a person’s ability to adapt and advance into new jobs and careers, Barata said. The survey’s findings suggest that part-time, unemployed people, as well as recent immigrant workers have less access to job skills courses and programs.
“Those who already have good jobs are the ones who are most likely to have access to further training and further development and those who are stuck in more precarious jobs don’t have, or face the greatest barriers to having, that access,” said Barata.
Barata argues Canada is going to need “everybody at their very best” as the country enters the recovery from COVID-19, while also coping with the large-scale demographic shift associated with the retirement of the baby boomer generation.
“If only one in two Canadians have access to training through their employer and, out of those who don’t have access to employment to their employer, a minority have any training at all, that means we’re simply leaving too many Canadians behind, which is bad for our overall economic future,” said Barata.
The survey found that a key barrier to greater participation in skills training for those in precarious work situations is the opportunity cost associated with income lost from time spent away from work. Governments have attempted to address this through grants and tax credits.
Barata thinks the solutions to this issue lie in increasing access to digital skills training, breaking some educational programs down into shorter, more accessible and affordable “micro-credential”-style offerings and factoring worker training and skills development needs into social support programs.
“We now have an opportunity, as we’re looking at employment insurance reform, to really consider (both) the economic or financial needs of those who are unemployed or underemployed (and) their training and skills development needs,” said Barata.