SANDRA M STANWAY
Partnering with educators, the local economic development team is working to identify emerging occupations, trends and training gaps as they look at the future of automation and its effect on the workforce.
The study began just prior to a federal government report that was based on a 2017 automation study by Brookfield.
It found Brooks is at the highest risk of people losing their job to automation.
The local study will be led by market researcher Elan Buan of Schollie Research and Consulting.
The strategy will include gathering quantitative and qualitative data through online and in person business surveys.
“We’re performing this strategy because we want to ensure the Brooks Region has the labour force needed for businesses and organizations to thrive,” said Jessica Surgenor, economic development officer for the region. “The strategy will provide us with information needed to identify trends, issues and opportunities.”
She said the success of the survey is highly dependent on participation.
“The biggest piece of the data is having businesses fill out the survey even if they are not looking for staff because it can help us direct the workforce strategic plan.”
The online survey is for businesses and job seekers to complete to allow the region to obtain a relatively complete picture of the present while trying to determine needs of the future.
The survey can be found at brooksregion.ca under the workforce development strategy tab under the business supports link.
Surgenor said each of stakeholders will be looking for different information in the survey results as they move forward. While economic development will look to determine how the workforce is made up through numbers and skills, for instance, educators will be looking to determine their future programming to help fill in workplace gaps.
JBS Food, with the biggest workforce in the region, is also a stakeholder in the project. The company has spent millions of dollars on butcher robots being developed by Australia’s Scott Technology, a company which designs robotic production line machinery.
“JBS is a large employer that has internationally looked at automation so of course they’re going to shine a light on us and ask if it’s going to affect the economy in Brooks. It’s not like it’s happening tomorrow and it may not affect the local plant,” Surgenor said.
She said the government is looking heavily at automation and if the local strategy finds that it is a gap, the college can work towards ensuring the proper training is available but even with automation it’s not a do or die or doomsday situation.
“The government is designating millions of dollars into trying to bring Alberta up to par with automation. We are so far behind that the government is taking a closer look into it,” she said.
A recently released document based on a 2017 report by Brookfield Institute found that Brooks has the “highest concentration of high susceptibility industries in the Canadian Prairies.”
The report continues, “This is driven primarily by the high proportion of employment in energy (oil and gas) and manufacturing (metals).”
The local study is a reaction to a federal government report on automation that was based on a 2017 Brookfield report.
Other reports including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Skills Outlook for 2019 found skills proficiency is high in Canada with respect to other countries.
The report states 8.5 per cent of workers, compared to 10.9 per cent in the OECD, are in occupations at high risk of automation and would need approximately one year of training to transition to another occupation.
“This information couldn’t be released at a better time when we’re already taking a close look at our workforce and what the future has in store for the Brooks Region,” said Surgenor.