How to Win the Skills Game: 10 Ideas for the 2020s

Jan 14, 2020 | Elinesky Schuett Private Wealth Management


For most Canadians, the 2010s began with a bang, when Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal at the Vancouver Olympics.

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Written by John Stackhouse

The decade is wrapping up with a very different kind of championship held in the same arena. The Dota 2 tournament — the Super Bowl of electronic gaming — in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and ensuing launch of a local pro esports team are just the latest indications of how much society, and the skills economy, can move in a decade.

From goal scorer to global gamer.

Few might have predicted such a change, or the massive surge in software jobs driven by gaming, social media and on-demand services. And yet, in the past decade, software publishing jobs have gone from 31,000 to 50,000, while jobs in computer systems design have grown from 155,000 to 258,000. The video gaming industry says it now accounts for 48,000 full-time equivalent jobs, with growth of more than 10% a year.

The skills revolution brought on by everything from gaming to the gig economy is just one reason most provinces are reviewing every level of education, as governments grapple with the ongoing challenge of people without jobs and jobs without people.

I was part of a panel discussion on the subject at the Canadian Club of Toronto, to explore how post-secondary education can better prepare students for a rapidly changing world of work.

Anne Sado, President of Toronto’s George Brown College, said we need to:

  • Make learning highly personalized, as students have very different needs.
  • Mix the classroom with digital and experiential learning.
  • Connect the curriculum with industry and community.
  • Set the stage for life-long learning.
  • Make resilience the fourth R.

Ross Romano, Ontario’s post-secondary Education Minister, stressed the need to connect research with commercial opportunities. It’s not only about driving economic value from campuses; it’s about building an innovation economy between employers, entrepreneurs and educators.

I told the audience we can expect three trends in the 2020s:

  • More educators entering the market, as demand grows for lifelong learning.
  • More individuals focused on skills training. Think of how we approach fitness.
  • More educators competing for that demand, and coming up with more creative and convenient approaches to teaching. Perhaps a Netflix for learning, with device-based, on-demand, shareable and snackable lessons.

I recently led a roundtable of employers to discuss what the elementary and secondary school systems might consider to better prepare youth for those challenges. The group included some of Canada’s biggest companies, trade unions, non-profits, small business representatives and public sector organizations.

Here’s what they said we need:

  1. More computational thinking. We don’t need a nation of coders; we do need a generation who think like coders.
  2. More digital design thinking, with students focused on problem solving, teamwork, iterative work models and data-driven solutions. “It’s a mindset,” one employer said.
  3. New ways to connect teachers to practitioners.
  4. Gen C skills: compassion, communication, collaboration, complex problem solving and critical thinking. They’re the skills most in demand, not least because of the ongoing boom in healthcare.
  5. Digital learning. It will become commonplace in organizations.
  6. Entrepreneurship. Even large organizations need more of those basic skills.
  7. Trades. Most of Canada is facing a critical shortage. Schools need to get students — and parents — thinking more seriously about it.
  8. Work-integrated learning. More co-ops, internships and apprenticeships, starting in high school. It’s not only good for the student; it injects organizations with fresh thinking and new energy.
  9. Learning to learn. Students need to be taught to become better problem solvers and approach challenges in new ways.
  10. Partnerships. No one sector or educator can address the skills shortage alone. Yet a failure to address those shortages will hurt economic productivity for all.

As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.



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