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Canada’s healthcare system could be the cure for disrupted workers: RBC

One million Canadians in at-risk jobs have at least three of five key skills that will be especially important for the healthcare jobs of the 2020s

TORONTO, November 14, 2019 - An estimated one million Canadian workers who are “at-risk” of losing their jobs to automation have the foundational skills for the burgeoning health care sector, according to a new report from RBC ( That could be an important remedy for a sector that is expected to exceed the overall economy in job creation in the coming years.

Applying research methodology developed by the Bank to better understand how young Canadians can prepare for a future defined by disruptive technologies, RBC concluded that these vulnerable workers possess key skills that will be especially important in the healthcare sector, including active listening, service orientation, and social perceptiveness and monitoring. This would enable, for instance, a displaced retail worker to become a patient-flow coordinator in a busy outpatient clinic. The report estimates about 330,000 jobs in the sector will require these competencies.

“With the right training, many impacted Canadians are well-positioned to cross into the healthcare field, especially those with a combination of social and digital skills,” said John Stackhouse, Senior Vice-President, RBC. “However educators, employers and policymakers will need to recognize the transferability of skills, and to provide opportunities to help bridge any skills gaps.”

Healthcare jobs insulated from job loss through automation
As for existing healthcare employees, RBC – which consulted employers, educators, practitioners, and start-ups in the medical space -- notes the “profoundly human nature of [their] work” better insulates them from automation. Indeed, 17 per cent of jobs in the sector are at significant risk of automation, compared with 34 per cent in the overall economy.

Stackhouse said: “Technology will replace some work, including in administration and lab diagnostics, where it could give a welcome efficiency boost to a sector facing increasing demands. But we don’t expect a robot to deliver a cancer diagnosis or replace hands-on homecare anytime soon.”

Moreover, technological advances are creating new jobs in the sector, which poses a major reskilling challenge, and opportunity. For instance, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have strong potential to predict disease. Yet medical practitioners will first need to understand the underlying algorithms—and their limits.

Urgent need to close skills gap in healthcare
The RBC report underscores the urgency to address the skills gap in healthcare. Like other western countries, Canada is getting older, and fast. Senior care is projected to represent an additional $120 billion in healthcare costs over the next decade, and will consume 55 per cent of provincial healthcare budgets by 2030, a 10 per cent increase from today. The aging population will help ensure the job growth in healthcare will continue to exceed that of the overall Canadian economy, with 370,000 new jobs in healthcare by 2025 according to Employment and Social Development Canada.

To help potential and existing healthcare workers thrive in the new world of work, the report recommends a number of initiatives including:

  • A national skills strategy for healthcare led by the provinces;
  • The creation and expansion of second-career bridge programs (such as second-entry nursing programs) to attract professionals into healthcare without requiring years of additional schooling;
  • The creation of more work-integrated-learning opportunities in healthcare for workers in non-health disciplines, to inject new ideas and ways of working into the sector; and
  • Healthcare sector partnerships with innovation labs on cutting-edge AI and data projects to solve healthcare inefficiencies.

“Properly designed, a mix of technology, skills and innovative management can soften the landfall of the silver tsunami, and further prevent the cresting cost of healthcare from overwhelming government budgets. It may even attract a new generation to healthcare, restoring balance to a sector that’s critical to our society’s health,” said Stackhouse.

This new report complements the findings in RBC’s Humans Wanted report on the impact of automation on the future of work. Humans Wanted and its subsequent research is part of Future Launch, RBC’s decade-long commitment to helping Canadian youth prepare for the skills economy of the 2020s and beyond.

For more information about RBC’s skills research:
Paging Dr. Data:
Humans Wanted:
Farmer 4.0:
Bridging the Gap:
Future Launch:

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For more information, please contact:
Joel Dembe, RBC, 647-518-4981,