Digital Policy Salon: The Demographics of “Flexible” Employment
Welcome to the 25th issue of the Digital Policy Salon weekly briefing.
We bring an array of updates to this week’s issue, but our central focus is on digital employment, clean energy polices, and trends in the gig economy.
New Labour Force Survey data informs our first perspective piece, an analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on employment from February to August, 2020. Our second article is a excerpt from ICTC’s white paper, Economic Resiliency in the Face of Adversity, which highlights policies that look to promote an environmentally friendly recovery, while our interview piece looks at 5G technology in Canada and the rollout of new digital infrastructure.
What opportunities and challenges does the flexibility of gig work hold for retirees? In this week’s “what we’re reading,” the impact of new careers on retirement is discussed, while our datavis of the week examines shifting views on the feasibility and profitability of gig work from Millennials to Gen Zs.
Finally, we’d like to hear from you! We’re soliciting reader feedback in a small survey this week. We’d greatly appreciate if you could take a moment to let us know what you enjoy about this publication and what you’d like to see more (or less) of. Click here to access our reader survey.
- Faun, Khiran, and Tyler
Policy Updates 🇨🇦
Work-from-home economy continues into August as employment rises
Canada’s unemployment rate is now 10.2%, down from 13% in April, according to Statistics Canada’s new Labour Force Survey. At the same time, nearly 75% of the 3.4 million Canadians who began working from home at the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis are still working remotely. A new survey by ADP Canada suggests that about 45% of Canadians would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week going forward.
Ontario holds public consultations on privacy and privacy law
The Government of Ontario is holding public consultations to inform possible changes to Ontario’s privacy laws. Interested parties have until October 1st, 2020 to participate in an online survey or submit feedback in writing to Ontario’s Regulatory Registry.
New Mozilla study defines user browsing histories as re-identifiable information
A new research study by Mozilla shows that browsing habits and browsing histories are unique and can be used to reliably track and identify users. According to Mozilla, it is possible to identify a user with a list of just 50 to 150 of their favourite and most accessed domains. The study has implications for user privacy in the digital advertising space, where anonymized browsing histories may be used to target buyers.
Australia proposes regulations for local news on digital platforms
The government of Australia has proposed new regulations for local news content shared on digital platforms, including search engines and social media platforms. If passed, the legislation would require platforms to pay royalty-type-fees for any locally-sourced and locally-funded, Australian content shared on their sites. In response, some digital platforms have said that they’ll prevent Australians from being able to share any news content on their sites in the future.
Canadian municipalities employing RFID stickers to improve waste collection services
Municipalities across Canada, including Lloydminster, Alberta; Prince George, British Columbia; and Beaconsfield, Québec, are using RFID stickers to improve curbside waste collection. Among other things, the stickers are being used to track the time and date of collection, improve customer service for residents, and enable individually tailored, “pay as you throw” programs. - Mairead Matthews | email
As documented in Canada’s recently released Revised Labour Market Outlook for 2022, Canada’s “Digital Economy” is much less affected by the crash than other sectors. This is because demand for digital services is heightened during quarantines, and digital economy workers are more able to work from home. Seasonally unadjusted employment across sectors has dropped most in accommodation and food services, and oil and gas since February. Meanwhile, August employment in Information and Communication Technology is about 9% above the February value.
Likewise, scientific and technical occupations have been least affected over this period. Employment in natural and applied sciences is the only broad occupational category with employment above February levels. Meanwhile, sales and service occupations remain 12% below February levels. Across age demographics, younger workers remain the furthest from their February employment levels. Employment for workers aged 20–24 is still about 18% below February levels. These workers are disproportionately affected in services, and oil and gas.
Foundations for a Greener Future: Anchoring a Robust Recovery on Sustainable and Carbon-Neutral Processes
The following is an excerpt (edited for length) from ICTC’s white paper, Economic Resiliency in the Face of Adversity.
As a robust economic recovery becomes a priority for Canadian policymakers, it is essential to think about policy goals in the long term. An environmentally friendly recovery is not only essential for our long-term future, but many thought leaders have already begun to link a more sustainable economy to improved resilience during this health crisis and future pandemics. The current economic shutdown is a prime opportunity for us to begin thinking about diversification, planning for sustainable futures, and developing policies and opportunities that benefit Canadians, businesses, and the planet.
Policies to Support Private Investment in Clean Energy
In addition to making direct investments in cleantech, green infrastructure, and Canadian ecosystems, governments have an opportunity to create policies that incentivize private investor and citizen support for a clean energy transition.
Support consumers and homeowners to make climate-friendly choices. Many Canadians will be financially stretched in the coming months, and although many people desire to make greener consumption choices, they may not feel able to invest money to do so. Accordingly, consumer support may be needed in the form of education, transparency about the carbon impacts of various products, and targeted financial programs. Some of the choices facing Canadians will involve up-front spending for long-term payoffs: for example, the Canada Energy Regulator found that installing solar panels and a smart metre would allow the average household to pay less for electricity than the current average in all but four Canadian provinces and territories (BC, MB, QC, and NB). Providing interest-free loans for Canadians wishing to install clean energy projects and similar policies would comprise an important step toward helping consumers manage the up-front costs of achieving long-term goals.
Incentivize private investment in clean innovation. Canada’s cleantech sector requires additional support to scale up and commercialize many products. Several Canadian organizations have identified key opportunities to incentivize investment. The first of these is investor tax credits for the cleantech sector, much like existing incentives for investing in SMEs in British Columbia and Alberta. A second policy option is the use of flow-through shares, a unique initiative that has traditionally been applied to the resource exploration sector in Canada. A flow-through share allows an individual taxpayer and equity investor to receive tax deductions from a company for costs incurred via exploration and development. Canadian organizations such as the Smart Prosperity Institute have contended that the scope of eligible flow-through share expenses should be expanded to include additional renewable energy research and development activities, as the current criteria are better designed for extractives than for cleantech.
Incentivize FDI in Canada’s Cleantech Sector. ICTC’s recent investigation of Canada’s attractiveness as an FDI destination for cleantech investors found that there was still significant work to be done. Existing efforts from Invest in Canada and other national organizations to promote the clean technology sector should be monitored and expanded along with the international investor-friendly strategies discussed in this report’s section on FDI, targeting the renewable energy and cleantech sector.
Interviews in the Field
Earlier this summer, ICTC’s Ryan McLaughlin and Rosina Hamoni spoke with Geoff Sullivan of MOBIA Technology Innovations about 5G mobile technology in Canada. Geoff is an Automation Lead at MOBIA, with over 5 years of experience in the tech sector.
What are your thoughts on where Canada is relative to other countries on 5G? As we sometimes see in studies from organizations like the OECD, Internet and mobile data is expensive in Canada compared to other countries. As a result, we don’t have very high penetration of these services compared to other countries. Why is that, in your view?
Based on my experience, Canada is rolling out 5G at the same pace that it usually rolls out new technology: typically, that is the wait-and-see approach. Or, “Let’s see what AT&T and Verizon do. Let them make those initial mistakes as they have the deep pockets, and then we can learn from that.” The technical telecommunications industry globally is getting a lot better at sharing best practices, and there is a lot more open-source and collaboration going on, but 5G adoption in Canada is going to take place at a pace that is probably a few years behind the US.
In terms of expensive internet, I tend to think it is a “scale thing.” It is about how Canada’s population is distributed across its geography. We have vast infrastructure requirements, which creates economic challenges.
Since many new functions are moving online, we’ve seen that the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating concerns about cybersecurity. Do you think that 5G has implications for cybersecurity?
5G is architected a bit differently than prior generations — it is very much software based. This generation of technology is very disaggregated from its hardware layer. That is going to be a challenge from an operations perspective and, as a result, could also be a challenge from a security perspective. You can imagine that there are a lot of people within the telecom world that may need to retool and relearn how these things run. Software has always had vulnerabilities, so it is just a matter of when it’s caught and by whom. You could make the argument that since it is much more of a disaggregated architecture, potentially there is more opportunity for human error or missed bugs during quality assurance.
What We’re Reading
(The Globe and Mail)
Recently, the Harvard Business Review concluded that the concept of retirement itself may be flawed.
Rethinking retirement is not about taking away people’s opportunity to finally rest, but about empowering people with the choice to live life in a way that works for them.
Greater flexibility in people’s working lives is bound to excite many workers. But what about non-workers? As life expectancy grows and retirement age remains the same, retirement becomes longer. This article argues that independent contract work — mediated by AI — is the perfect way to enable a slow transition in to retirement, or to avoid retirement altogether.
On the other hand, this could be seen as an erosion of workers’ rights — once we’ve put in enough years of hard work, don’t we deserve a break? Here lies the conundrum presented by increasingly flexible work: at what point does the option to work become an expectation or a need to work?
Increasingly, the future of work is becoming ‘disaggregated,’ from careers, to contracts, to gigs. Digital technology plays a first hand role in this disaggregation, as the benefits of long term staff are replaced by the on-demand and specialized roles of globalized workers. Perhaps there is a future in which these roles are filled in part by would-be retirees? - Khiran O’Neill | email
One the of the key drivers for participation in the gig economy is flexibility. In BC, a survey of gig economy workers found that the vast majority (70%) valued the flexibility of gig work, ranking it higher than the ability to earn more money through full-time work. The importance of workplace flexibility, however, is not valued only by gig workers; it is a notable factor among younger workers engaged in full-time work as well.
Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey collected data from over 13,000 millennials in 42 countries and over 3,000 Gen Zs in 10 countries. The findings highlight a relatively strong appreciation for the gig economy but mostly as a means of supplemental employment, not full-time employment. Four in five millennials and Gen Zs find the gig economy appealing, but only 6% of millennials would choose gig work over full-time work as a primary source of income. Overall, both millennials and Gen Zs had balanced and similar views on the gig economy. Millennials showed a slightly higher evaluation for the earning potential of the gig economy, but the biggest discrepancy between millennials and Gen Zs related to their views on why employers offer gig work.
COVID-19 has been dubbed the world’s “first mass experiment in remote work,” an unprecedented catalyst for the adoption of internet-enabled work and the gig and sharing economy.
“We are on the cusp of a new era of labour market shifts and workplace transformation spurred by the advent of advanced digital technologies and expedited by the recent COVID-19 events. This research is pivotal for examining the changing nature of work and its socioeconomic impacts on the labour market in Canada,” — Namir Anani, ICTC president and CEO
Technological innovation brought new flexibility and substantial growth and complexity in the digital-platform economy. Advocates of remote work cite recent studies of overwhelming worker support for extending work-from-home arrangements beyond the pandemic, and that most workers are confident they can perform as, or more, effectively in a remote work environment.
Critics worry that this new reality will exacerbate existing and growing class divisions between those who are able to work remotely — often full-time workers with secure employment — and essential workers who do not have this capability and rely on precarious gigs that often lack job security, paid sick leave, health insurance, and employment benefits.
Loading: The Future of Work explores the key concepts of this labour market transformation, its economic and social implications, and the opportunities and challenges for creating a resilient and inclusive economy in the post-COVID world.
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