Stressing the positive, workshop participants touted the technology as a solution to Canada's endemic dilemma: too much too much geography and not enough people. Regional disparities could be diminished; economies of scale are less important.
One of the most frequently expressed concerns dealt not with
the nature of the change we're experiencing, but the unprecedented speed of it.
Can we cope with such rapid and ubiquitous change? Or rather, are the current
coping mechanisms sufficient?
Although there wasn't a great deal of discussion devoted to those who would lose out, there was some. There was a consensus that certain occupational groups, and possibly even certain regions of the country would tend to bear rather more of the negative consequences of change. The groups mentioned were women, youth, older workers, natives in Western Canada and the North and the 30 percent of adult Canadians who are functionally illiterate. Sometimes these groups of people were referred to as marginalized people. For instance, women are often referred to as on the "periphery" or the margin of the work-force by virtue of their heavy concentration in part-time and temporary jobs. Women represent 75 percent of part- time workers and about 85 percent of temporary workers. When technology makes work redundant, a temporary worker isn't laid off; rather, her work term just isn't extended. Marginal workers are the most vulnerable.
There was a general assumption that the social safety nets would take care of those people who are dislocated by technological change, as well as a related assumption that these people would be content to languish there -- although the recent troubles in the Gaspesie would tend to challenge that assumption, I think.
There was also some concern about polarizations in the Canadian labor force and a related retreat from the principles of equalization. Although working at home via computer terminals and phone lines holds many positive advantages, representatives of women's groups worried that it could herald a resegregating of women and women's work inside the home unless protective policy measures are implemented to prevent or mitigate this. There might also be a have and have not situation in occupations and skills. Several workshop participants worried over a possible bimodal distribution of the labor force, with a relatively small technical elite of knowledge workers using technology in creative value-added ways and then a large mass of relatively unskilled people doing menial work -- for instance, in fast-food restaurants, as janitors and domestics or some other of the 20 occupational groups cited in a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report (published in 1983) as likely to provide the bulk of new jobs during the 1980s.
Canadian management came in for some criticism in some workshop discussions. With some even using the term "inept" to describe its deficiencies. Managers tend to be short-sighted, to not emphasize marketing enough, and to connote management with control rather than long-range planning and the true managing of change.