The technology and knowledge sectors will play a key role in shaping the post-pandemic recovery and the future of work, says Monte McNaughton, Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. 

McNaughton paid a visit to the Communitech Hub to consult with Waterloo Region tech leaders about Ontario’s efforts to support the recovery.

“We have to get this right,” he told Tech News. “There’s a huge opportunity to grow the economy, to grow the gig sector of the economy, and to create better-paying jobs for workers and their families.”

McNaughton created the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee recently to explore the future of work in a post-pandemic environment. The seven-member panel of experts is consulting with workers and businesses across the province. It’s scheduled to submit recommendations at the end of August.

The minister told a roundtable of tech leaders that the expert committee is addressing three main questions.

First, how can the province use training programs to help workers participate in the economic recovery? 

Second, how does the province support those whose work depends on digital platforms, the so-called “gig” economy jobs such as delivering food and driving people from place to place?

Third, how does the province ensure that its policies reflect the importance of the knowledge and technology sectors, where work is increasingly remote and global? 

“And lastly,” McNaughton said, “how can we get more investment in Ontario? How do we attract good companies here?”

Roundtable participants emphasized two key themes: the unrelenting competition for talented employees, and the need to make it easier for international talent to come work in Canada.

McNaughton noted that 250,000 jobs are currently unfilled in Ontario. In Waterloo Region, Communitech members alone have 5,000 job openings.

“The competition is fierce,” McNaughton said. “I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that.”

Two tech founders shared their struggles to hire enough skilled tech workers to grow their companies. Both said American companies are luring talent away with salaries that are double what Canadian employers typically pay. On top of that, the increase in remote-work opportunities means that skilled Canadians don’t have to move abroad to work for international employers.

“I think there is a broad-based lack of understanding of how urgent the talent challenge is,” said one founder.

In an interview after the roundtable, entrepreneur Joseph Fung said that in addition to the competition for technical workers, he’s seeing an outsized increase in U.S. demand for non-technical Canadian talent.

Fung, the founder and CEO of tech-sales educator Uvaro, said that of 700,000 sales and customer-success jobs posted in North America over the past two months, about one quarter targeted Canadian locations specifically. That’s more than double what you might expect based on Canada’s population relative to the U.S.

“The demand for talent for both Canadian entities as well as American companies is very, very real – and not just for technical roles,” he said.

The solution for helping Canadian companies attract sales and customer-support workers is to produce more talent, he said.

“It’s really about us developing more talent, fundamentally. So, working more closely with our educational institutions, supporting not just professional programs and micro-credentials, but the reality is we need to build that professional talent.”

In an interview after the roundtable, McNaughton said he was impressed with “the knowledge and experience” in the room. 

“Communitech and its members know what needs to be done. They’re on the ground, they’re there all the time.”

The fierce competition for talent was one of his key takeaways

“It's a critical piece that I heard clearly today,” he said. “That’s why we need to address the future of work, we need to be ahead of all other jurisdictions in North America and across the world to attract talent, to retain talent, as well as to ensure that we’re attracting new business to the province.”