The Changing Landscape of Jobs in the 21st Century

By Angus Gillespie

In looking back over the past several hundred years the one constant in business has been that nothing remains the same. Innovative change has been ongoing and will continue throughout our lifetimes and beyond. Where it will go, is anybody’s guess.

The 19th century brought the world such magnificent innovations as the steam engine, internal combustion engines, locomotives, telegraphs, electricity and photography. Fast forward and the 20th century produced such marvels as the airplane, automobiles, submarines, antibiotics, radio and television and the Internet.

Yes, the backbone of what is now known as the Internet in its most basic form has actually been around for much longer than people may realize. While it only became commercially available to the public in 1994 on personal computers, its origins date back to its creation by the U.S. military in the early 1960s. Research into packet switching, one of the fundamental Internet technologies such as the NPL network, ARPANET, the Merit Network, CYCLADES, and Telnet were mainly developed between 1968 and 1972. The U.S. military used the networking systems to communicate with each other throughout the world.

The ARPANET project led to the development of protocols for internetworking, by which multiple separate networks could be joined into a series of larger networks. The major breakthrough that led to its widespread commercial use with the general public was thanks to an English scientist named Tim Berners-Lee, who, in 1989, created an interface that would revolutionize the way we live our lives. His invention allows end users to read and interact with many different protocols under one system and allow file sharing and data transfer. That system is what we know as the World Wide Web. Documents and other Web files are identified by Uniform Resource Locators (URLs, such as, which may be interlinked by hypertext. The resources of the WWW may be accessed by users using a Web browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

Now we are well into the 21st century and innovation and inventions continue to multiply and a dizzying pace. Among some of the latest and greatest gadgets include: Bluetooth – which was actually unveiled in 1999 but was not until the start of this century that manufacturers began to adopt it in mobile phones and computers. Also invented were the iPod, Skype, Facebook, Nintendo Wii, Apple iPhone and driverless automobiles.

What does that mean for Canadians and the types of jobs that will be available both in the near-term and longer term? We’ve already witnessed many positions being lost to automation, with manufacturing being the most obvious and perhaps nowhere more so than in the automotive industry.

Cannabis Legalization

While innovation will have the largest individual impact on jobs in the future, so too will government and cultural acceptability of certain things that were once considered taboo. The legalization of cannabis goes to the very top of that list.

Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. posted revenue in what was the first quarter of the company’s 2019 financial year of $29.7 million, more than triple the $8.2 million during the same period ended September 30 of last year. With the legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018, Canada became just the second country in the world to do so. There are jurisdictions of other countries where it is legal, but not on a nationwide basis.

Canopy Growth of Smiths Falls, Ontario is another large cannabis enterprise. Formerly known as Tweed, it is led by Bruce Linton, Founder, Chairman and Co-CEO. It had 3rd quarter fiscal results of $98 million in gross sales and a net revenue record of $83 million.

Sandoz Canada Inc. recently established a partnership with B.C. medical cannabis company, Tilray of Toronto, to produce and distribute medical marijuana products. Sandoz Canada is a division of Switzerland’s Novartis, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Tilray has its processing plant and facilities in Nanaimo, B.C., and in Enniskillen and London, Ontario. The company employs about 250 people in four Canadian provinces and seven countries and serves patients all over the world.

Evidently, this is an industry that is just beginning to cut its teeth and stands to become much more substantial.

Gaming & Technology

Video games have become one of the most popular pastimes in North America and it’s opened up a plethora of creative opportunities for some very interesting platforms. One of the smaller but successful companies in this realm is Klei Entertainment of Vancouver, which has quickly made a name for itself with several very popular games. The company has been in business since 2005 and continues to expand having been credited with developing 11 games for commercial use.

Perhaps the biggest gaming company is Hinterland Games. The studio has both the ability to create games and raise funds for ongoing operations. This was showcased during its campaign for The Long Dark, a survival game based in the wilderness of Canada.

As an extension of the gaming industry is hi-tech. Google, and its parent company Alphabet, move to the very top of that list. In New York Sidewalk Labs was started by Alphabet that uses new technology to address urban challenges and offer input to improving quality of life.

Meanwhile here in Canada, Sidewalk Toronto will begin with a new neighbourhood, called Quayside, located in the southeast quadrant of downtown Toronto. Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto hope to bring new innovations along the Eastern Waterfront, which will advocate the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability, and transportation.

Small Business

Whether it’s the 1900s or now, the one constant in the Canadian economy has been the importance of small business. By definition a small business in Canada has anywhere from one to 99 employees. The latest statistics show that 98.2% of all Canadian businesses have fewer than 100 employees. If you then add in medium-sized businesses (100 to 499 employees) that percentage rises to 99.8%. Small business – regardless of the industry – employs virtually everyone in Canada and is the lifeblood of our economic ecosystem.

From 2005 to 2015, 87.7% of all new jobs (1.2 million jobs) were created by small businesses. British Columbia (93.6%) and Saskatchewan (93.1%) are the provinces with the most people employed by small businesses. Ontario (87.3%) and Alberta (91.2%) have the lowest percentages; small businesses are still the main employers in these provinces.

Small- to medium-sized businesses contribute to about 45% of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) on an annual basis.

More than half of Canadian small businesses are concentrated in five industries: retail trade (12.5%), construction (12.2%), professional, scientific and technical services (12%), other services (9.6%) and health care and social assistance (9.2%). These five industries combined account for almost 56% of all small business jobs.

In taking just a single example, the Cisco Innovation Centre in Toronto is home to 30% of Canada’s internet technology firms, the majority of which have fewer than 50 employees. It stands to reason that a number of breakthroughs can be anticipated over the next five to 10 years. It’s estimated those firms account for more than $50 billion in annual revenue, putting Toronto ahead of such notable international cities as Chicago, Washington and Tokyo.

So, what are some of the current best types of businesses and those that will likely continue to be relevant over the next 10 to 20 years?

The transportation and storage industry comprises passenger transportation services and the shipping of goods, as well as warehousing and storing products. There is not a lot in the way of start-up costs – it can be as little invested as one single truck. Expansion can happen from there by hiring more drivers and more trucks on the road as the customer base allows for a greater level of spending on operational requirements.

There is always going to be a need to handle waste management. This is one area that has grown by leaps and bounds in terms of greening and improved enhancements for the environment. It’s a great opportunity for environmental entrepreneurs to leave their mark on the betterment of the world’s health.

In spite of increased automation professional skills will always be at a premium – such as law, accounting, marketing and management consulting. Those are the types of skills that will require the human touch – not a computer spitting out algorithms.

Another benefit in considering a career in one of the professional services is that if you are a lifetime learner. There is always room to update skillsets and learn new technologies and methodologies.

Another line of business that is sure to continue in spite of innovation is real estate. Certainly the sector will be impacted by technological innovation with apps and the ability to view homes and office buildings via a 360-degree on-site camera, but there is still that human touch needed to help answer potential buyers about certain questions they will have. According to the latest statistics 85% of all Canadian real estate businesses turn a profit.

There has never been more of a commitment to physical fitness than now, so fitness and recreational sports centres are also quite likely to continue to breed success for years to come. This industry provides an ability to combine one’s passion for health and fitness and be paid for it at the same time.

According to figures from the federal government, 70% of fitness and recreational sports centres in the country are profitable.

Other areas that are expected to show strong potential for the future include the transportation business, mining consulting, freight brokerage, independent financial advisors, computer repair, event planning, equipment leases and cleaning services.

The Future

Many businesses that did not exist 25 years ago are now among the largest and most successful in the world, and it’s those companies that have employed millions of people worldwide. Google, Amazon and Facebook are just three examples, all of whom are worth billions of dollars, and each has a sizable presence here in Canada.

Young people today need to assess the types of qualities they must have – or obtain – in order to be successful. While manual labour jobs will certain exist, they won’t be nearly so bountiful as in the past. It’s easy to see that automation and computer technology has wiped out a great number of legacy positions, and that isn’t switch to reverse. In fact, it’s only going to continue. People have always managed to evolve and move with the change in time and workplace environment and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue into the future.

Just look at all the jobs that didn’t even exist 10 years ago: Social media manager, SEO specialist, App developer, driverless car engineer, telemedicine physician, etc., etc. It’s a list that is going to grow and evolve.

Employers will still require certain qualities that machines cannot match or come close to replicating, such as creativity and people skills. Coding is also a skill that will be required more, because someone still needs to create and maintain the machines. Coding is a skill that is increasingly becoming a necessity even in jobs outside the technology sector, which is something to keep in mind.

The world’s best employers as well as colleges and universities want young people and students who will help revolutionize the world. For them, the best predictor of future achievement is past achievement. They want students who work well with others, are open-minded thinkers and are change makers.

As the old saying goes, ‘It’s no longer your dad’s workplace’.