Dr. Steven Liss
Vice-President, Research & Innovation, Toronto Metropolitan University
Executive Director, Magnet
To ensure Canadian businesses have sufficient digital talent to meet rising demand, Magnet is working to fill current and future skills gaps.
Canada’s economic future depends on having a robust supply of digitally-trained workers in areas like cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, and robotics. “The pandemic revealed the need for digital services and technologies to be fully evolving, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” says Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-President of Research and Innovation at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). “As we saw, big companies that were well-positioned digitally made a much smoother transition, as did the SMEs that had already adopted digital tools .”
In this current high-demand and low-supply market, organizations like Magnet are working to identify and fill the most urgent digital skills gaps, both now and in the years ahead. Founded at TMU (formerly Ryerson University), Magnet is a not-for-profit social innovation platform that partners with education, government, technology, and community services to connect employers with job seekers, as well as to provide training and career development services. “With SMEs being a significant feature of our economy, a digitally-skilled workforce will be critical to help these companies move forward, and Magnet provides the technologies and tools to make those connections,” says Dr. Liss.
To identify current and future skills needs, Magnet constantly scrutinizes and analyzes job postings, trends, and research across Canada. “Having a responsive system that’s based on data and what’s happening on the ground helps us better predict what and where the trends are and inform s evidence-based policy on career pathing,” says Mark Patterson, Executive Director of Magnet. Multiple stakeholder collaboration and consultation are key components of this system. “We work with schools, post-secondary educational institutions, community-based organizations, unions, and training programs across the country, along with groups like the Labour Market Information Council and TMU’s Future Skills Centre, to ensure we’re meeting the needs of businesses and job seekers,” says Patterson.
New skills, as well as new mindset, will be necessary
As trends shift and change, so will education and the training of the labour force. “Over the next five to ten years, there’s also going to be a big shift to more on-the-job and experiential learning, along with a proliferation of short-term micro-credentials to help people upskill quickly on a specific skill or tool that’s used in the workplace,” says Patterson.
On top of that, critical thinking ability, agility, and a mindset that’s open to constant change will be fundamental. “Adopting a lifelong learning mindset and developing that in our education system will be more important than telling people this is the one skill they should have,” says Patterson.
Ensuring inclusive growth in the digital economy
Apart from changes to education and training, removing barriers to full labour market participation will be necessary. “Internet access for people in rural, remote, and many Indigenous communities, for example, is still a challenge that prevents them from fully participating in the digital economy,” says Patterson. To ensure inclusive growth in the digital economy, Magnet collaborates with other TMU centres, such as the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, which works with youth facing barriers to employment. “We’re working on their skills for entry-level cybersecurity roles to accelerate their path to opportunity,” says Patterson. Another collaboration partner is TMU’s Future Skills Centre, which dedicates over half of its investments toward helping address barriers for underrepresented and underserved communities in the labour market.