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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Disruptive Technologies and the Skills Revolution


As part of my work with GO Productivity I have been all over Alberta conducting workshops on the impact and implications of disruptive and emerging technologies on small and mid-sized businesses. 

Key questions we canvassed participants on was around the changing skills needed to work in a digitized and automated economy.  While many existing routine and even analytical jobs in professions like law and medicine will be lost or changed, others will be created.  There is definitely a “skills revolution” happening.  It’s in early stages but it has traction and is gaining momentum.

The new world of work and the coming skills revolution will have disruptive impact on the next generation too.  The Royal Bank of Canada has just released a report dealing with this change called “Humans Wanted, How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption.”

Here is how they frame the issue: “The next generation is entering the workforce at a time of profound economic, social and technological change. We know it. Canada’s youth know it. And we’re not doing enough about it.”

The challenge they discovered is “…a quiet crisis — of recent graduates who are overqualified for the jobs they’re in, of unemployed youth who weren’t trained for the jobs that are out there, and young Canadians everywhere who feel they aren’t ready for the future of work.”  

In response, here is the ambitious commitment from the RBC to deal with the issues: “RBC wants to change the conversation, to help Canadian youth own the 2020s — and beyond. RBC Future Launch is our 10-year commitment to that cause, to help young people prepare for and navigate a new world of work that, we believe, will fundamentally reshape Canada. For the better. If we get a few big things right.”

The RBC also puts out a related challenge to business, government and educators.  “We all bear responsibility to change that. As employers, we need to rethink the way we hire, retrain and continuously reshape our workforces. As educators, we need to think beyond degrees and certificates. 

As governments, we need to take advantage of the world of instant information to harness the coming skills revolution. And young Canadians everywhere need to seize the moment, to demand more of Canada and more of themselves.”

We are all responsible and many of us are able to respond.  As it stands now business, government and educators are all weak links in dealing with this crisis and engaging in the solutions.  It will take a collaborative, concerted and consistent effort to change how we do things, independently, and more to the point, together, solve this….and it must be solved.

The place to start is to read the RBC report and reflect on the new skills and the new mix of skills for the digitized automated Industrial Revolution 4.0.  Then look at your operations and start getting specific about what you can do to be part of the solution to our common problem.

When everything is changing at the same time at ever accelerating rates, there is no option to watch and wait it out.  We all must take steps to be the disruptors - not the victims. Adopt, adapt and take economic advantage of the change ... or whither and die.  Stark? Yup.  True? Absolutely!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

We're Just a Bunch of Monkeys

I wanted to write something in anticipation of the inevitable Left vs Right commentary that will be forthcoming on the Alberta Budget debates. 

However, I have not really read the Budget...yet!  Pretty hard to be authoritative under those circumstances.

Still the polarized arguments and tropes from the adversaries are very easy to anticipate as they get regurgitated.

The progressive centralists in the Alberta Party are still looking for some safer, saner and sustainable solutions.  That is very much a "work in progress" and the work continues. 

In the meantime here is some "comic relief" round the Left vs Right at it relates in the States.  Except for the names and a few other changes...for Alberta the story's the same one. (apologies to Neil Diamond for ripping of his lyrics in I Am...I Said).

Now I will delve into the 2018 Budget and look for the gems of sound fiscal management and the germs of good ideas.

It would be good if you joined my in the search.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Are Alberta's Policy Makers Agile Enough for Emerging Technologies?

I have been travelling the province facilitating workshops on the the impacts and implications of emerging technologies in our economy.  These technologies are also called disruptive and exponential by some folks, depending on if you have a half empty or half full mindset.

NEW SKILLS & NEW COMPETENCIES:
The underlying motivation for these workshops is to gauge the awareness, interest, readiness,  planning and actions being taken to adopt and adapt to these transformational changes.  We have taken a special interest in the skills and competencies we humans will need to be able to work with these technologies and in spite of them.

There is a lot going on in the physical realms of autonomous vehicles, drones, robotics, automation, 3D printing for example.  It seems there is even more going on in the computational and information realms line artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, quantum computing.  Then we have bio-engineering and nanotechnology happening at alarming rates too.

NEW MINDSETS NEEDED:
Alberta has a unique opportunity to engage and lead in many of these areas as a smart way to diversify our economy.  But we need to get our heads out of the incremental mindset of  conservative thinking and get seriously and creatively into an innovation mindset of progressive change.

Boldness doesn't mean recklessness or brash behaviours but it does demand leaps of imagination using ingenuity in an applied way to see things differently.  This is not a call to rely on faith as a way forward.  It is a demand  that we look at evidence and deal with facts and live as much in the question as we do in seeking the answers.

That mean we have to teach ourselves to be innovative.  We need to escape the comfort and stability of the known and consciously choose to seek out the opportunity in the uncertainty and to seek to see things differently.

RENEWING OUR INSTITUTIONS:
All of this comes into play in the collective exercise of our democracy through governance, regulation and...yes politics!  Are we citizens ready, willing and able to attract, identify and elect the kind of candidates?  Will we stay informed and engage with the policy-makers to influence and deal with these issues?  Are our institutions up the the challenge in these transformations, including political parties?

By example of policy implications, here is a brief recent backgrounder by Herman J.H. Ossthuysen on Autonomous Vehicles in Alberta.  It was originally published by the Alberta Council of Technologies as a provocation on the technological implications for policy issues for Alberta's transportation and infrastructure from autonomous vehicles in the trucking industry.

This change in approach must pervade all aspects of our lives and relationships to ourselves, to our economy, to our environment and our society.  We often define ourselves by what we "do" mostly by our work.  What if we envisaged a post-work society in the new reality of automation robotics and machine learning?  What will we use to establish our sense of worth if we are at the end of "Homo-Economicus?"

Here is a link to a Guardian Long Reads podcast on a "Post-work: the radical idea of a world without jobs."  It's about 35 minutes long so grab a cup of coffee of brew some tea and give it a listen.

The world is run by those who show up!  Passive pretentious progressivism can no longer be tolerated. I will look forward to your comments on this blog post.  After all we are all in this alone...together.


Saturday, March 03, 2018

Alberta Party 3.0... How Did It Come to This?

The Only Sure Thing in Alberta Politics is There is No Sure Thing.
The on-going volatility of the Alberta political culture is not smoothing out with Stephen Mandel's recent Alberta Party leadership victory.  That volatility is likely to become more vociferous and starkly apparent as the adversarial win-lose, right versus left hardens the positions of the UCP and NDP.  Is there any room for a rational, pragmatic and progressive centrist party option in this win-at-any-cost political culture?

Alberta Party 1.0
The Alberta Party wasn't always a progressive centrist movement, in fact quite the opposite.  According to Wikipedia, which in this instance I have no reason to doubt, the Alberta Party was founded in 1985 and started out " in the early 1980s as an alliance of small separatists political parties...spawned in the wake of the National Energy Program...."

There were five parties to the right of the  Alberta Progressive Conservatives in 1985 and some had elected MLAs but had lost them in the 1982 election.  In 1990 there was a movement to join these right-wing parties into a new party called the Alliance Party of Alberta.  It unsuccessfully contested 2 by-elections, fielded a handful of candidates in 1993 election and passed on participating in the 1997 general election entirely.

In 1998 the party changed its name to the "Alberta Party Political Association" and became known as the Alberta Party for branding purposes.  In advance of the 2004 election there was a failed attempt to merge with the "Alberta Alliance Party" that had formed out of the old federal Reform Party cum Canadian Alliance party but in an Alberta context. 

The merger idea was for the new entity to campaign under the Alberta Alliance Party name and to adopt the Alberta Party platform.  The merger fell apart when the Alberta Party refused to de-register its name with Elections Alberta.  In fact the Alberta Party official changed it name just before the 2004 election and ran 4 candidates in that election and 1 in the 2008 campaign. 

Alberta Party 2.0
As the Wildrose Alliance became the dominant right-wing party in Alberta the hard-right conservatives gravitated there leaving the Progressive Conservative Party and the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party was pretty much inert but it was kept registered. It was then that the new efforts to start a movement to attract progressives from the PCs, Alberta Liberals and Greens coming out of a series of three province wide gatherings of progressives called Reboot Alberta.  Reboot Alberta arose from a discontent with the rise of the far right and the need for a more effective progressive voice in Alberta politics.

This progressive movement was a loose arrangement of the Progress Party, the Reboot Alberta initiative and a Calgary centric Renew Alberta.  The daunting task of raising 8000 signatures to start a new party and the attractiveness of the Alberta Party name resulted in informal discussion with the tired but true board of the Alberta Party.  I took the lead in those discussions with the old board acknowledging that the Reboot/Renew initiative where the old board agreed to suspend the old far-right policy platform. The idea was to formulate a fiscal conservative, socially progressive and environmentally responsible platform. 

That openness of the old Alberta Party board resulted in the unanimous election of Edwin Erickson, a former Green Party deputy leader as the Alberta Party leader.  That was the beginning of a new centrist progressive political party that was a gathering place for a wide range of Albertans looking for a more authentic voice for an integrated and comprehensive pragmatist approach to politics and governance in Alberta. That was the beginning of the Alberta Party as we know it today.

Alberta Party 3.0
What will be the fortunes of the next Alberta Party? Time will tell.  It appears that it finally has traction and momentum after many years of frustration and false starts.  The recent leadership contest has drawn new members, new energy and renewed purpose.  The hard work of raising some real money, some great candidates and viable constituency organizations with a resonant policy platform is on the agenda for the new leadership. 



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trans Mountain Pipeline: Politics With a Purpose

Can We Build and Operate a Sustainable Pipeline?
I am very much in favour of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline project.  As an Albertan, and therefore the owner of the natural resources it will transport, I acknowledge the special benefits as well as the concurrent burden associated with it.

To me this project should be a prototype for an integrated, comprehensive Triple-Bottom-Line approach a promote as part of an Alberta Party governance and evidence based decision-making model.  Triple Bottom Line comprehensive approaches include considerations for people, the planet and people concerns in any public policy decision.  The integrated aspect is best summarized as "All things considered, consider all things." 

Hard Choices to be Made
Governance is said to be about making "hard choice."  That includes priority setting and values trade-offs.  In this policy setting approach a policy a project may be driven by economics, like TransMountain.  However in the project analysis as to what should be the policy priority, the economics may dominate but they should not trump to the point where the environmental and social concerns are dismissed as irrelevant.

Hard policy choices by government is where our elected representative set policy priorities,determine the values trade-offs and advise the public, a.k.a. citizens, of their decisions and how they came to them.  We need to be aware of and accepting the consequences of such trade-offs with prior and fully-informed consent of society as well as indigenous peoples through our Treaty obligations.  Such acceptance must be with an on-going goal of anticipating and detecting, preventing and correcting ignorance and error on a continuous basis.

Albertans, as resource owners, must be assured this project is not just economically viable, that conclusion is unassailable, yet it could be even better.  Getting bitumen to domestic tidewater will get a much better market price, reduce market vulnerability by diversifying our market which is now 99% American, and provide good high paying jobs.

Pipeline economics however are like water is to soup, necessary but insufficient.  We need to be sure this project provides social benefits, especially to those indigenous communities in it's path.  We need to be sure that taxes that are levied are collected and not avoided by off-shore shenanigans we have discovered through the Panama Papers.

We also need to be vigilant and capable of dealing with ecological consequences of the pipeline operations.  Yes pipelines are the safest way to transport hydrocarbons, but are they a safe as they could be?  We need a new standard of continuous innovative technology adoption where industrial operations  are concerned as related to the environment.  This will make operations responsible, sustainable and productive in a full life cycle approach.

Politics With a Purpose
There are partisan politics around this project but it is more of a larger public policy concern that who is wining the court of public opinion battle.  So lets get beyond the "He said; She Said" of left vs right politics as usual.  Progressive Albertans can get more informed, take some positive action and help to make this project the best it can be, now and in the future.

Here is a link to an excellent Government of Alberta website that is key to helping Albertans to achieve those ends.  I encourage all progressive Albertans and especially Alberta Party members, friends and family to take this pipeline project to heart and help out.