Two cornerstones of any G7 nation are finance and healthcare: one reflects the economic health of the nation, the other health of its citizens. Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) applied in these areas show incredible potential for innovation–better customer and patient engagement, employee empowerment, greater operational efficiencies, and industry transformation. Accompanied by cloud computing, big data analytics, cybersecurity, and internet-of-things (IoT), AI is but one of many tools driving digital transformation. Its role is to operationalize the growing stockpiles of information increasingly available across all industries.
Within this context, a crucial requirement is the ability of a country to create and sustain a trained workforce that can lead its industries to flourish. The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted a paradigmatic shift in the workplace, with the emphasis on remote work (and work-from-home) accelerating both digital growth and adoption. At the same time, the negative impact of economic shutdowns has made it necessary for businesses to adopt new ways to optimize operations and making the workforce more effective. AI technology stands to play a pivotal role in the success of this realignment.
In this comprehensive report, ICTC explores the support needed for Canada’s digital workforce to acquire AI skills through various training pathways: broad upskilling initiatives to target widely needed digital skills and strategic cross-training programs to address acute needs like those in the field of AI. The use of AI in healthcare and financial services requires highly experienced teams comprised of individuals with graduate-level education (e.g., either master’s or doctorate levels) in AI, business, and domain-specific knowledge. A key finding in this report is the knowledge gap that exists between each of these subgroups on AI product development teams. In the healthcare and financial services industries, it is often the case that domain experts, AI/ML experts and business strategists lack a common understanding of each others areas of expertise, reducing their ability to collaborate effectively on AI products. Grounded in interviews with industry leaders in AI, in the financial services and healthcare sectors, this report proposes two new methods of skills training: targeted cross training between AI, business, and domain experts; and mentorship and support programs. Further, ICTC recommends the following calls to action:
- Businesses and organizations that develop AI products for use in the healthcare and financial services sectors should ensure that their development teams are adequately cross trained, with sufficient technical, domain, and business know-how. Industry should therefore prioritize multidisciplinary cross-training within AI teams.
- Canada’s strategy for AI skills development should include cross-training as a fundamental pillar in workforce development efforts. For example, government actors could include acute skill needs (such as the need for multidisciplinary cross training on AI teams) in future plans and programs stemming from the Workforce Development Agreements.
- Canadian academic institutions should assess the availability (and accessibility) of AI-related courses in non-technical programs such as business, finance, or medical programs; and the availability of domain-specific courses in technical programs like data science or computer engineering.
- In light of the economic impact of COVID-19 on Canadian employment and the resilience of the tech sector over the course
of the pandemic, the federal government should continue to prioritize and support remote upskilling programs to address broad information and communications technology (ICT) skill needs.
- Stakeholders in heavily regulated sectors like financial services and healthcare should work with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to establish industry-wide data governance standards and secure data sharing mechanisms to enable greater and more secure data access.
Seen as an opportunity, government and employer investment in non-traditional training pathways can help infuse the digital economy with highly trained workers and springboard economic recovery.