Employment law is an ever-evolving area, as is the workforce. I had the privilege to present and learn at two inaugural central Alberta events in the past few days. With the speed of change, rather than it be the old-fashioned pre-pandemic CPD (Continuing Professional Development) events where I was just checking to make sure I was still up to speed and might get and give a few new tips, both were a firehose of information, where you have to fight to stay afloat and at the end, your brain just wants to hibernate, drowned in new information, but loving all the potential. Well, unless you are in a doomsday mood and see robots taking over. We do have to resolve our labour shortages and have challenging work for Albertans.
The Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) held a Workforce Strategies Summit. So many of us in many industries are facing a labour shortage so, as necessity is the mother of invention, it is important for our economy to support innovation to stay competitive, or even just alive, as it relates to individual businesses and entire industries. The panel I moderated: “Increasing productivity through automation and technology” included Dr. Joy Agnew, Associate Vice-President, Applied Research, from the Olds College Centre for Innovation talking about Smart Farms. She was named in the Top 50 most influential people in Canadian agriculture. The Olds College Smart Farm provides the agricultural sector a venue for commercial scale applied research.
Alberta agricultural producers use autonomous agricultural equipment, sensors and other digital tools to improve efficiency and keep us fed while labour is scarce. Immigration is another avenue for supplementing our workforce, with agriculture being a more popular choice of occupation elsewhere. I am not sure if other strategies such as having a remote workforce is applicable to farming although perhaps you can monitor your robot labour from Hawaii, I will have to ask Dr. Agnew. One thing I do know is that the broadband infrastructure across Alberta needs top priority as rural connectivity infrastructure is not just about being able to watch the latest episode of The Last of Us, a made in Alberta American post-apocalyptic drama. It can be a real do or die for Alberta business.
The second event was the inaugural Smart MTX (Manufacturing Tech Exposition) at Westerner Park. With partners including the Manufacturing & Export Enhancement (MEE) Cluster, the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce and the Red Deer Polytechnic (RDP), and over 50 leading edge exhibitors from business and academia including global representation which support (including grants and other financial support) or innovate in the manufacturing sector, I do not know where to start. In my mind, I foresee this event growing to the level of an Agri-Trade (which attracts an international invasion) if we play our cards right.
Diversification of our economy and being globally competitive does not happen by accident, but by actually taking steps to be competitive and leading edge. Manufacturing is more than 10% of Canada’s GDP and even the smallest business can stay competitive with the new technology, IF they adopt it. I was pleased to present on Legal Insights (the rule of law in a democracy has to keep pace with innovation, and vice versa, the innovators have to ensure safe products, human rights for their human workers, privacy, cybersecurity, data protection, etc.).
The robotics and 3D printing on display were a must see. I have my own 3D printed dinosaur as a keepsake. I enjoyed listening to brilliant speakers like Dr. Tonya Wolfe, Director, Centres for Manufacturing and Energy Innovation at RDP. She recently accepted an ASTech Award for her team, awards recognizing outstanding achievement in Alberta in the science and technology innovation community. She was involved with the additive manufacturing sub-conference. The younger generation provides many of the highly skilled workers we need, including designers, researchers, programmers, engineers, technicians and tradespeople. I can’t wait until next year!
Donna Purcell, K.C., (aka Lady Justice) is a Central Alberta lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer with Donna Purcell QC Law. If you have legal questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.