Annual Report 2017-2018

Looking ahead, getting ready

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1. Changing jobs

Automation and artificial intelligence are redesigning the labour market and are threatening to replace existing occupations. Technology can copy not only a human’s physical aptitudes but also a human’s cognitive functions. This is the particularly true of jobs that consist primarily of routine tasks, such as administrative positions. This exposes certain public sector jobs in particular to automation. It is difficult to assess which jobs will be lost, what types of jobs will be created and which individuals will be the most vulnerable.

Industrialized countries around the world have attempted to estimate the probability of the replacement of existing occupations by technology and the percentage of labour exposed to this risk. These estimates vary from 5% to 50% of the workforce, depending on the method used.138 The most cited figure in the Canadian context is 42%. In Ontario, this means almost 3 million individuals will lose their jobs in the next ten or twenty years.139, 140 Francophones will find themselves in this boat.

In this context, blue-collar and administrative workers are particularly vulnerable to automation given that the majority of their duties are predictable, mechanical or “rule-based.” Some estimate that there is a 96% chance that the duties of administrative officers and general office-support workers will become automated in the next 10 to 20 years in Canada.141 This is significant.

Ontario’s public service employs more than 60,000 individuals across the province. This number decreased by 25% in 25 years.142 It is difficult to imagine what automation, retirements and job changes mean for the 622,415 Francophones in Ontario and for the province’s general ability to offer services in French.

Indeed, technology reduces language obstacles, including by providing translation services that are accessible online. But they are still imperfect: Unbabel, which defines itself as “AI-powered, human-refined Translations as a service,’’ relies on 42,000 translators around the world to fine-tune translations.143 The reason is very simple: computers cannot translate languages like they translate codes. Languages are constantly evolving and are based as much on social norms and the interpretation of meaning as they are on semantic and cultural rules.144

The Commissioner is concerned about these online translations because they do not take into account the cultural reality of Franco-Ontarians. Jobs in French teaching and translating would therefore be less vulnerable to further automation, once they still require a crucial human element. The same applies to jobs that require so-called global competencies.

  1. For more information, see
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  5. In March 2016, there were 25% fewer full-time equivalent jobs in Ontario’s public service than in March 1991, when it had the most, according to the Ontario government’s data.
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  7. Ibid.

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