To say we live in interesting times is to understate the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. With all the technological and social changes that have already taken place within the last decade, it’s easy to feel both worried and excited about the future. We face challenges like the continuing threat of climate change but also have opportunities to unleash the potential of scientific and technological innovation to improve our society. Surging population growth and fast increases in food and energy production are also new realities.
How will Canada and its municipalities respond to growing cultural and technological complexity? The future will be shaped by change at an unprecedented rate; technological advancements, shifting demographics, and social change will have a major impact on the daily lives of Canadian residents. To keep up, municipalities should be planning for ‘tomorrow’ and many years ahead, thinking about ways to leverage changes in order to keep their communities thriving.
The Factors Shaping Our Future
With the youngest baby boomers entering their 50s and the oldest now in their 70s, the Canadian healthcare sector will experience increased strain as this demographic raises demand for already scarce hospital resources. An aging population will also create a disruption in the labour force, meaning immigration is key to replenishing the workforce, keeping schools viable and paying for healthcare, and otherwise sustaining the Canadian welfare state.
Within twenty years, Canada could have close to 10 million seniors, a number that will jump to between 12 and 15 million by 2061.
High-paying jobs for work in manufacturing plants, mines, trucking, and construction – usually held by males – are being replaced by technology like automated trucks and robots. Loblaws and Walmart Canada, for example, have already shown interest in purchasing autonomous transport trucks, which could make human drivers obsolete.
Canada is also experiencing a shift towards a female-supported economy as women continue to occupy jobs in the healthcare sector. This trend will continue as 60% of university students are now female and the service economy continues to expand. This could lead to fewer jobs overall, a sharp decline in high paying positions in traditional blue collar work, and growing social dislocation as new employees and displaced workers struggle to find opportunities.
This transition has already started. With the introduction of autonomous vehicles in the resource sector and the widespread use of advanced industrial machinery in the factories, young men are finding it more difficult to launch their careers. Recent college and university graduates already tend to struggle with underemployment and short-term employment, and high urban real estate prices have made the transition to adulthood more difficult for many.
Positive social change has led to greater diversity in the workplace as employers start to place higher importance on gender, racial, and cultural diversity. This has proven profitable: a 2015 McKinsey report shows that businesses in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns greater than the industry median.
Millennials increasingly influence working culture, as their priorities – including the desire for work-life balance and greater freedom – start to shift how the average Canadian workplace operates.
The future promises less stability, more mobility, and potential disconnects between workers’ expectations and employers’ needs. ‘New economy’ firms – Apple, Google, Facebook, Desir2Learn, and Open Text – are seen as preferred employers and are changing workers’ expectations about the nature of work.
New technology in medical monitoring, 3D printing, finance, and retail operations will open up many exciting possibilities but will also take away many traditional jobs, especially in manufacturing, local banking, and grocery and department stores.
More than 300,000 jobs have already been lost in the manufacturing sector in recent years, accelerating the hollowing out of many towns in central Canada.
According to the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, as much as 50% of the jobs in Ontario manufacturing towns such as Ingersoll, Tillsonburg, and Woodstock have the potential to be automated.
The future of Canada could be in autonomous vehicles, alternative energy, or aquaculture, so municipalities need to start thinking about what lies ahead and start planning now for a rapidly changing time.