Last year, the Alberta School of Business celebrated its centennial. We have survived two world wars, numerous depressions and recessions, and thrived in an era of globalization and rapid digitalization. As we enter our second century, we face continued upheaval in global politics and trade—a shakiness in economies that, for adaptation, will require the wisdom of a 101-year-old, yet the curiosity of a one-year-old.
For decades now, our country has relied, perhaps too much, on the United States for trade and economic diplomacy. With President Trump threatening to “rip up” the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico and Canada won’t reopen it, we may have to gaze across oceans to make up for lost GDP and other disruptions. Across the Atlantic, similar insularism is taking hold; 2017 may very well be the year that the European Union unravels. Over the Pacific, China and Russia emerge as tough superpowers doing a lot to promote themselves economically, while “Western nations” do the opposite. Journalist Taylor Lambert cogently explains what’s at stake for Canada, with help from some of our School’s experts.
But international trade is only part of the equation for a successful future. Alberta’s economy relies heavily on energy commodities, yet they too are in crisis: oil prices are volatile; the coal industry is under siege; carbon taxes are spooking businesses and the public. And a swath of entrepreneurs, including several of our own grads, are creating opportunities and value in the midst of this upheaval. It begins at home, where the crisis is transforming your electrical grid, and stretches across our streets, where the automobile is finally having its enlightenment era.
Despite much uncertainty with trade, commodities and foreign policy, the next year holds promise for Canada on many fronts, including job creation, as evidenced by 2016 figures of 214,000 jobs net gained, which is the highest in four years. But hedging our bets based solely on where we are today is myopic to say the least. Preparing for the future will demand agility and imagination, technological innovation and human interaction —which always have their places, but are necessary now more than ever. According to a U.S. Department of Labor report, 65 per cent of today’s children will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Above all else, the future demands critical thinking, something highly emphasized in all of our programs and highly valued in the workforce, even if it’s applied to creating artificial intelligence to do the rest of the thinking for us (see our story on “robo-investing”). By some estimates, 65 to 80 per cent of jobs today require post-secondary studies, compared to about 30 per cent in the early 1970s, when I was in high school. It’s incredible to me just how much the world, our country and our educational institutions have changed in the intervening years. But human ingenuity has remained a constant, giving me tremendous faith, hope and excitement for today’s grads.
Stanley A. Milner Professor and Dean,
Alberta School of Business