Work is a meeting spot. Through work, the economic collides with the social, the livelihood of a single individual interacts with global economic systems and the workers who employers need converge with the knowledge that trainers provide. As complexity waxes, panaceas wane and working together becomes increasingly important.

People and systems

The innovation economy of the 21st century demands changes to Canada’s training and employment system. Shifts in demographics translate to a declining working age population. A globalized economy amplifies competition for talent and the pace of technology changes the nature of jobs and entire industries.

While some sectors shrink, others rapidly transform, expand or emerge. For growing sectors—current examples include information technology and hospitality—there is a persistent and predicted shortage of the skills they require.

For a variety of reasons ranging from perceptions (like the idea that the long-term unemployed are unsuitable candidates) to a mismatch between the skills Canadians have and the skills employers require, there are jobs without people in them in these sectors. There are also many people without jobs—particularly individuals who face barriers to employment, such as the recent immigrant who lacks “Canadian experience” for a position he or she is otherwise qualified for or the university graduate who works at a restaurant on a part-time basis. As the transition to a global innovation economy accelerates, pathways to good work are critical for Canada to be a country that is ambitious, fair and ready for the future.

Working and learning

There are multiple actors within Canada’s training and employment system, including educational institutions, governments, training providers, businesses, labour organizations and each and every employer, worker and job seeker. Similar to the Rashomon effect (described here in the energy sector), each actor has a different understanding of the challenges, a different set of incentives informing potential solutions and a different underlying perception of the issues. For example, while many employers indicate that relevant skills are an area where training is lacking, some economists consider stagnant wages or declining employer investments in training the true problem and some educators point to a lack of job opportunities and employment demand when framing the issue.

Canada's employment and training backbone
Actors in the backbone of Canada’s employment and training system.

While the challenges differ greatly between sectors, the proposed solutions also involve deeply rooted beliefs about human nature and nurture. To what extent is success a function of individual initiative and to what extent is it a product of the broader environment? To what extent is labour a cost to be constrained and to what extent is it revenue-generating potential that should be supported?

Perceptions diverge, but there is considerable consensus that the time for increased coordination is ripe.

Rather than advocating for a particular solution, the Working Together Lab, an initiative of the MaRS Solutions Lab, seeks to bring diverging perspectives together with the tools and intention to collectively explore and advance possible solutions for Canada’s training and employment system.

The Working Together Lab

Good work has the potential to be transformative. When an employer and a job seeker find the right fit, the economic and social lives of both are profoundly changed. The Working Together Lab combines social innovation lab methods with collective impact approaches to move multiple sectors toward a common agenda.

With a national backbone and local sector–based pods, we at the Working Together Lab want to learn from and with the best interventions, and scale them to impact perceptions, policies and systems.

Are you interested in joining the Working Together Lab collective impact conversation? If so, get in touch.

Sarah Bleiwas

Sarah Bleiwas is a graduate intern with the MaRS Solutions Lab. She is focused on bringing people and perspectives together around training and employment systems and global justice. See more…