The future of work in Canada was supposed to be in the knowledge-based “New Economy” of high paying service sector jobs. However, even these are under siege due to globalization—no one is immune from change.
However terrifying this sounds, the news is actually not that bad!
Across the US and Canada, traditional assembly line jobs are vanishing, and most of them are never coming back. Economists and governments gravely shake their heads and chalk it up to globalization. “Our manufacturers can’t compete with China,” they say. “The future of jobs here in Canada is in the knowledge economy.”
But even that is proving to be a bit glib. The titan of all knowledge-based, “New Economy” service oriented jobs—the financial sector—is under new threat in Canada. With the announced proposal to merge the TMX Group and the London Stock Exchange, thousands of high-paying financial service sector jobs in Toronto could be gone.
How is this possible? We’ve come to accept that North America’s rust belt manufacturing jobs are finished. But financial services? This was supposed to be Canada’s (and particularly Toronto’s) one ace card. Are we losing this too?
With globalization, nothing is safe from change. Everything is getting bigger, faster, and cruelly cost efficient. At first blush this seems like a terrifying statement. And the knee-jerk reaction from governments is typical: protect Canadian jobs from foreign takeovers. With the proposed TSX/London Stock Exchange merger, the rhetoric from some governments is already staring to sound protectionist.
In 2010, Ottawa blocked the Australian takeover of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, stating that it was not a net benefit for Canadians. The Saskatchewan government argued that potash was a strategic asset. Ontario’s provincial government is playing the same “strategic asset” card in an effort to protect financial services jobs in Toronto.
But potash and financial services are completely different things. Saskatchewan is the physical location of a great deal of the world’s potash deposits. Financial services, like those offered by thousands of highly educated, highly paid professionals on Bay Street, can be offered anywhere in the world. By blocking the merger of the TSX for the sake of protecting financial services jobs, governments risk making Canada’s single stock exchange an irrelevant, unimportant, and laughably small exchange. The global financial world will move on to bigger fish.
If the merger is blocked, those service sector jobs—the brokers, lawyers, accountants, and investment bankers who make their living off stocks traded at the TSX—will survive. But only temporarily. It’s the very same logic that would block trade in Chinese manufacturing to save jobs at home.
We have two choices: 1) block all global investment to protect jobs, thereby isolating Canada as a small and irrelevant market (“Albania of the North”), or 2) embrace globalization and all its terrifying consequences, and in the process allow new services and industries to take root.
The first choice is unattractive for obvious reasons. But the second choice is unattractive because we don’t know precisely what these new services and industries will be. That’s the challenge of globalization: go out and create opportunities that didn’t exist before. Build industries that don’t yet have SIC codes. Train Canadians for new jobs that do not even have names.
In the 1950s, the term “human resource specialist” would have made no sense. In the 1980s, if you were told that your children would be “web designers” you’d clearly be puzzled. And in 2040, we will look back and fill in some job description that sounds just as nonsensical to us in 2011.
Globalization is not—and should not—go away. Its benefits to the enrichment of human life around the world have far outweighed its costs. And as Canada is finding out, embracing globalization doesn’t affect only blue-collar workers. No one is immune.
The good news is that the sooner you embrace the possibilities of globalization, the farther ahead of the curve you will be in creating the jobs and industries of tomorrow. They’re out there, just waiting for Canada’s creative minds to invent!