Digital Skills Training in the Workplace: A Canadian Report Card and Five Recommendations for Companies

Everyone from the federal government to large businesses and start-ups agrees that Canada needs to develop more workers with technology skill sets that lead to improved productivity and innovation. Yet Canadian businesses are failing to take advantage of the one thing that could shift the tide: employer-funded continuing education and training courses.

Course Compare’s recent survey, which gathered responses from 350 employees at 18 leading companies across Canada, showed 64 per cent of workers did not use their available education funding in 2017. Furthermore, employees ranked their employers at the low end of a five-point scale —  giving them 68 per cent on average — when it comes to providing opportunities for ongoing learning and training. 

This issue is a major hurdle for Canadian companies to overcome, if only because developing productive teams depends on ensuring that their team members can continuously upgrade their skills. With automation and artificial intelligence (AI) redefining the future of work, the need for ongoing skills training will only become more apparent.

Additionally, companies that implement corporate learning strategies reap benefits that go beyond a more productive workforce. Employers who establish a strong foundation for on-the-job learning also experience lower turnover and higher-than-average employee retention and loyalty. In fact, a recent study by PwC shows that millennials rank training and development as the single most valuable benefit an employer can provide.

After speaking with hundreds of Canadian professionals, Course Compare has identified a few critical steps companies can take to improve corporate education and training programs. Directors, senior managers, and individual contributors at a cross-section of leading employers, from fast-growing startups to Fortune 500 companies, gave the following recommendations:  

  • Ensure senior leadership is dedicated to ongoing education as a company-wide process. Continuous learning should be built into a company’s culture, and employees should be encouraged to view skills development as part of the job.
  • Help employees identify the skills they’ll need to advance their organization’s objectives (and their own careers). This means companies need to think strategically about the skills they’ll need 5, 10, or even 15 years in the future.
  • Increase the diversity of courses offered on a company’s approved vendor list, whether that includes coding bootcamps or online courses focused on job-related skills development.
  • Better promote education and training opportunities. Nearly a quarter of employees surveyed by Course Compare weren’t even aware their employers offered programs and funding for job-related tech skills.
  • Empower managers to champion education initiatives and measure outcomes with staff. This includes giving employees enough time to pursue on-the-job learning.

It’s telling that 60 per cent of people interested in acquiring digital skills are investing their own time and money to advance their education, according to a U.S. report conducted by CapGemini and LinkedIn.

That’s consistent with our Canadian data, which shows 76 per cent of people believe learning a new tech skill will be critical to their success in 2018. Workers cited data science, digital marketing, AI, blockchain, and computer programming as top areas of interest and opportunity — skills that, in many cases, are still being defined by industry-leading practitioners. Consequently, many firms will need to look outward to improve corporate learning programs as more and more workers rapidly upgrade their skills.

Of course, companies alone shouldn’t be tasked with preparing Canadians for the future of work. Innovative efforts to address the growing “skills gap” should also include corporate learning programs driven by public- and private-sector collaborations; short, modular programs focused on in-demand skills in continuing studies departments at colleges and universities; and government-supported national funding strategies that arm a wider group of Canadians with the digital skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing labour market.

The best companies won’t view skills development or corporate education programs as a distraction, but as a competitive advantage that attracts and helps retain top talent. Continuous learning will be built into their cultures. And employees will benefit from a syllabus of educational and training opportunities that are as flexible and fast-changing as today’s economy. 

Robert Furtado is the founder of Canadian education marketplace If you’re interested in learning a new tech skill, you can explore Canada’s leading coding bootcampsdigital marketing coursesUX/UI coursesproduct management courses and more at


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