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Constantine PassarisThe sweeping structural unemployment across Canada requires our collective attention.

It’s time to take a deep dive into the changes happening in the workplace and ensure our young people are empowered for success in the new global economy.

Canada’s economy isn’t immune to structural change. The advent of industrialization, manufacturing and, more recently, the information technology and communications revolution are reshaping the economic landscape and the modern workplace in a profound and indelible manner.

Old products have lost their consumer appeal while new ones emerge. Old jobs are disappearing, replaced by new ones. The global economy of the 21st century is redefining the world of work, and speeding up the integration of state-of-the-art hardware and software.

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has profoundly redefined the nature of work. The pandemic has underlined the importance of electronic connectivity, reconfigured the workplace and created a work-at-home default environment.

We face a lack of skilled workers across the country and many jobs are unfilled.

Demographic challenges – a low birth rate and insufficient immigration – create an acute shortage of skilled workers in Canada.

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Missing is a federal government plan to ensure our national workforce has the educational levels, contemporary skill set and the technological competence to prepare them for new economy jobs. This isn’t the time to bicker if this is a federal or a provincial responsibility. We need a collaborative federal-provincial endeavour before it’s too late.

There’s a good reason why the federal government should step up to the plate. Transitioning to a new workforce that’s empowered for success in the new global economy doesn’t happen overnight. It happens through purposeful leadership, a collaborative plan and with the luxury of time.

Unless we empower our young people with the human capital assets and point them towards seamless integration in the opportunities and skills of the new economy, we’ll end up with massive structural unemployment.

I have a very simple test: when our unemployed people can’t fill job vacancies, we have structural unemployment. This means the education and the skills of the unemployed don’t match the requirements for unfilled jobs.

There are enough cases of structural unemployment across Canada for us to start taking it seriously.

Preparing the next generation for an effective, efficient transition to the new work world isn’t the sole responsibility of the federal government. It’s a collaborative and consultative journey. But we must begin now.

The federal government should take the lead and convene a jobs summit. It should start the process for a purposeful dialogue and innovative thinking.

Delegates to the summit should include stakeholders from across the country. They should represent a wide range of sectors, including all three levels of government, youth, the private sector, universities, community colleges, industry, First Nations, persons with disabilities, labour organizations, professional associations, representatives from immigrant settlement agencies, the social sector, volunteer organizations and other stakeholders.

The goal is to develop a framework and bold agenda to guide our efforts to empower our youth with appropriate educational opportunities, technological competencies and contemporary skills. We need to ensure their successful and efficient integration into the labour force of the new economy.

We need their youthful disposition, vision, energy and talent to drive our prosperity.

The jobs summit should focus on the importance of human resources in the new global economy. It should recognize we need to invest in our young people and empower them with these assets. Then they can lead Canada’s economy into the post-COVID-19 recovery.

Preparing our young people for success in the new economy requires a purposeful and collaborative partnership.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick.

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