Around the world, digital disruption, shifting international dynamics, and emerging markets are changing economic structures and business models. At the same time, transformative technologies like AI, 5G, Blockchain and a handful of others have already begun to play a substantive role in our current economy and communities; and they will continue create new opportunities, generate potential, and cause robust change across many sectors. For instance, even the most traditional industries like forestry are changing and adapting to new business needs, oftentimes doing so via experimenting with new technologies. Finland’s CollectiveCrunch uses AI to identify and model various characteristics of forest inventory1. In Canada, the forestry industry has long been a pillar of economic strength, with provinces like BC and Alberta playing pivotal roles. New start-ups are emerging to tackle forest management across the country, and in BC, well-established companies like TimberWest are experimenting with technology such as LiDAR to better evaluate microhabitat diversity and improve outcomes.
Although only one example showcasing the permeation of technology in the forestry industry, increasingly all sectors of the economy will have a digital touch. The ICT (technology) sector has traditionally played a major role in reshaping productivity in Canada, through transforming production processes, fostering efficiencies, and spurring innovation. The sector is also an important contributor to the Canadian economy, with total GDP reaching nearly $89 billion2 in 2018. Representing more than 4.5% of Canada’s total economic output, its growth was nearly double that seen across the overall Canadian economy that year. Yet, despite its economic strength, the growth of technology across other sectors is shifting the boundaries of the digital economy, with scaling numbers of ICT workers employed outside of the ICT sector. In 2009, the sector’s total share of digital economy employment was more than 52%; but fast-forward to 2019 where the ICT sector made up under 48% of all digital economy employment.
Our near-term future may point to uncertain international trade dynamics, potentially stalling overall job growth3, along with pressing environmental considerations among other factors. However, Canada is afforded with the opportunity to create, innovate and expand our digital economic footprint despite these realities, and Ca- Canadian businesses are already leading in some critical technology areas. One need look no further than Montreal’s robust presence in AI research, or Vancouver’s digital media stronghold to understand that we are in a position to grow. Moreover, with novel initiatives like the Innovation Superclusters, or trade agreements like CETA opening the door to the world’s largest marketplace, the demand for homegrown goods, services, and innovations can quickly scale. With this comes the continued need for a competent digitally-skilled workforce that can develop, implement, utilize and enhance transformational technologies to support Canada’s digital economy.
Digitally-skilled talent is at the cornerstone of our economic success, and like Canada, many countries around the world are and will continue to experience the crunch for this crucial supply stream in the future – particularly as key technologies like AI continue to drastically impact the way we do business. Under a moderate growth scenario, ICTC foresees the demand for digitally-skilled talent in Canada to reach more than 305,000 by 2023.
If filled, total employment in the Canadian digital economy will scale to more than 2.1 million. Even when taking into account the possibility of longer-term economic slow-down, the need for digital talent remains significant. Under a contractionary growth scenario, Canada will still see a demand for digitally skilled talent that will total approximately 250,000 by 2023. If filled, this will bring digital economy employment to over 2.05 million, with the economic impact4 of these jobs reaching $160 billion by 2023.
To be certain, our digital journey is not without challenges – some of which may be spurred by global trends that are beyond our control. However, as a nation, our path to success in this connected economy remains squarely anchored in our ability to fully embrace digital technologies in the coming years. They will change the way we work, live, how we interact with one another, how business is conducted, and our relationships with global markets. As a country, turning this impending disruption into opportunities will be pivotal; and our focus must rest with developing, training, and attracting the skilled talent that will facilitate sustainable economic progress, drive our competitive advantage, and ultimately safeguard our continued future success.