MDB Insight Blog

Critical Economic and Workforce Recovery Trends

This week our #WednesdayswithMDBinsight post features Evelyn Paul, Consultant, looking at important trends emerging in economic and workforce development during the pandemic.

The global economy and the future of workforce development is currently being challenged like never before. In addition to being a significant health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has overhauled the world economy, sending communities into closures and economic decline. Canada was one of the most affected countries recording a labour force decline of 1.7 million (-8.5%) between March and April 2020. As per Statistics Canada data, May 2020 recorded the highest ever unemployment rate of 13.7% since comparable data became available in 1976.

My work on several recent strategies and sector-based assessments amid the COVID-19 crisis has revealed some trends that I believe will be important in the shaping of the next “normal” (whatever it may look like).

  • Digital Transformation is Critical to Economic Recovery – While COVID-19 has had a significant impact on sectors including commercial aerospace, recreation and culture, hospitality, and traditional sectors, the impact has been less pronounced on the technology-based sector and those industries embracing digital transformation in their processes and services. Digital transformation is an essential component for the viability of both industries and the workforce as the demand for remote working, digital skills, distance learning, online media content, telemedicine, and eCommerce have heightened since the pandemic began. Communities are in a unique position to capitalize on their digital businesses and pave the way for digital transformation. A strong digital strategy and leveraging digital business in the community to develop innovative and fast solutions are critical in this regard. 

  • Automation will Continue to Impact the Workforce Skillset – The implications of Industry 4.0 on industries and the workforce is even more amplified due to COVID-19. The disruption of global and regional supply chains has resulted in an automation surge, as more and more industries and processes adopt and adapt to technology. Workforce displacement is a significant outcome of automation, as the need for physical or routine roles, particularly in the hospitality and traditional sectors, declines. On the other hand, automation has accelerated the demand for technological skills,  expected to increase by 55% by 2030. This includes both basic digital skills, such as word processing and data entry, and advanced skill sets such as programming and data analysis. Communities must ensure that sufficient training and upskilling programs are in place to ensure the local workforce has the digital skills required to participate in the digital economy.

  • Reskilling and Upskilling of Workers is an Immediate Need – Given the rise of digital transformation and technology adoption, there is an immediate need to reskill and upskill workers to enable them to participate in the labour force. Businesses have already developed measures to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including remote working, technology adoption and decreased number of workers on the factory floor. While businesses are going through a hiring freeze and working with a decreased number of workers, opportunities exist for the reskilling and upskilling of the workforce. An example of upskilling would be training workers who have an aptitude for data and analytics skills so that they can contribute to demand forecasting. The reskilling of the workforce by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) serves as a best practice for success in the current remote environment.

  • Restructuring of Supply Chain Provide Opportunities for Local InvestmentIncreased pressure for certain supplies and products has been amplified during the pandemic, leading countries to identify a need for global restructuring of supply chains. Due to increased pressure for access to products, governments and businesses have responded to production and distribution opportunities and are shifting closer to the point of sales. Where possible, countries and regions are looking to expand their supply chain, resulting in less demand for some foreign-produced products. Personal protective equipment is perhaps the best example of this shift, with companies shifting manufacturing lines to produce masks, protective gear, and sanitizers.

  • Work Flexibility is the Norm, and Rural Communities are Benefitting – As technology has evolved and industries change, more employees and businesses have switched to the online realm. There has also been an increasing trend of employees wanting more flexibility in the location and timing of their workday. Remote working has also resulted in an increased appetite for workers to move to a rural community. A 2017 Gallup Poll showed 27% of urban residents between the ages of 30-49 years already preferred to move to a rural area to work. 

While the impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching, regions that respond quickly to support economic recovery will benefit. Through targeted approaches, communities can capitalize on these trends. Support for local businesses looking to move to an online platform or digitize their products is an important consideration. Additionally, as companies shift to remote working, there are opportunities to assist these firms, notably smaller businesses. Emphasis can be placed on upgrading the digital infrastructure to support the remote working transition. This includes factors such as stable, high-speed Wi-Fi connections, good mobile coverage, and secure internet servers. As supply chains become less international, there are also opportunities for communities to position themselves as being open to investment. However, it is imperative to recognize that as economies start back up, so too will the demand for talent, often with new or enhanced skill sets. The response of the workforce ecosystem must be strategic and requires collaborative and collective efforts across the workforce and economic systems and their partners.

EvelynTo learn more about Evelyn and the other members of our team, go to 

Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

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