On June 19-20, the second iteration of True North, the conference (and city-wide festival) about Tech for Good, will roll out at the Lot42 Global Flex Campus.

A key theme of this year’s True North event will be the Age of Re-learning and Future of Work. As technology progresses, as automation and artificial intelligence drive workplace change, the world must respond with education, training and skills development. In short, we need to figure out how to future-proof ourselves.

That’s precisely what Thomas Friedman, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist, will discuss at True North, leading off the event with a keynote talk that’s expected to riff from his latest bestseller, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

A precursor to those very themes was explored Monday at a Future of Work and Learning Workshop hosted by Communitech at the Tannery Event Centre, the goal of which was to generate statements that will serve as a basis for brainstorming and problem solving during True North.

On hand to address Monday’s workshop and lead off the event was Ontario Minister of Labour Laurie Scott, who made it clear that the future of work and the changing face of the workplace is very much top-of-mind at her ministry.

“According to a report by the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that don’t even exist yet,” Scott told the approximately 50 attendees.

“Ontario workers don’t want to be left out of the future.”

Scott told Communitech News that governments, and particularly her government, must quickly respond to the tectonic shifts now underway, and doing so is in part why she was in Waterloo Region Monday, to see first hand the work being done in the region and to hear from local tech companies about their concerns and needs.

“I think lot of ministries need to work collaboratively,” Scott, the MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, said.

“We have to prepare our students as early as possible to have several different jobs, jobs that are evolving.

“So what do we need to do [in order to] adapt the workers we have now but also [give them] that durability – so employees know they need solid foundational skills. It’s like the foundation of a house. We’ve got to get that right so they can export skills into the other jobs they’re going to encounter, jobs that we don’t even know exist yet.”

At a roundtable discussion Monday, Scott heard officials from several local companies talk about their need not necessarily for engineers, but rather for people who have what traditionally have been seen as “soft” skills: communications, problem solving, creativity – skills that remain relevant even as technology evolves, skills that move easily from company to company. A particular problem, they said, was that those skills aren’t formally recognized with academic credentials in the way that engineering or accounting or computer science skills are.

“Those soft skills, those communications skills, that problem solving.

That’s the modernization that needs to occur,” Scott acknowledged.

Scott’s tour of Communitech included a stop at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board lab, during which she heard about work underway to modernize the functions of the WSIB, which falls under the Ministry of Labour. From there it was on to a tour of Velocity, the University of Waterloo’s startup incubator.

Scott was visibly impressed with what she saw.

“We want to stay the whole day – it’s fantastic,” she said, asked for her impressions.

“It’s a whole new world that we need to catch up on [and discover] what its needs are – from a government that needs to change within itself.

“All the out-of-the-box thinking and creation and freedom – sometimes we don’t get that from government all that often.”

Monday’s workshop was sponsored by Manulife, Deloitte, the University of Waterloo, the Province of Ontario, Communitech Academy and Smart Waterloo Region.