4. Assessing the impact of digitalisation in Alberta through the lens of big data

New digital technologies, such as robotics, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and information and communication technologies are reshaping the way people live, work and learn (OECD, 2022[1]). The exponentially increasing computing power of digital devices allows the development and implementation of a range of new digital technologies such as 3D printing, advanced robotic and automation. Digitalisation brings clear potential to improve the well-being of societies by boosting productivity.

Against this backdrop, digital technologies have recently found significant application in the production of goods and the delivery of services. The introduction of digital technologies in production, for instance, led to the emergence of the so called “Industry 4.0” (I4.0), or the fourth industrial revolution. In this context, recent developments in machine learning and data science allow machines to operate autonomously with little or no human supervision. Similarly, the evolution of new physical sensors that collect and process information is key to operate the Internet of Things (IoT) making second-generation industrial robotics possible. These new systems are at the core of automation developments that spilled over to a variety of productive sectors and areas of the labour market.

All these changes are poised to replace humans in some of the tasks they carry out in their jobs. This will likely free workers’ time to produce more innovation, eventually leading to further technological changes and even more radical shifts in the way humans interact with machines in society and labour markets. However, concerns still remain as to whether the digital transition and the future of work will be inclusive for all individuals.

Assessing the impact of the digital transition on labour markets is key for policy makers to design effective labour market and education policies to support the development of those digital skills that workers will need to thrive in future ‘digital’ labour markets. Tracking the impact of the digital revolution on jobs and skill demands, however, is not an easy task. Data on new emerging technologies and their adoption in productive processes is difficult to find and, in most cases, this information is collected with a lag or it is aggregated at a level that is too high for policy makers to truly respond to current (and future) challenges with tailored intervention.

The timely and granular skill and technology information contained in online job postings (OJPs) can be of great help in assessing the digital skill demands coming from employers and to anticipate future challenges by identifying areas for policy intervention in a very detailed way.

This chapter tracks the evolution of the demand for digital professionals in Alberta and compares those trends with the demand in Canada as well as internationally whenever appropriate. The analysis focuses on a wide set of digital occupations and roles, spanning from computer and data analysts to data scientist and engineers, including ICT technicians and managers and specialists in the digital world. The chapter also looks into the adoption of specific technologies in productive activities by measuring the speed by which the demand for these technologies is spreading across a wider range of occupations and sectors over time.

The digital occupations analysed in this chapter have been selected for the key role that they play in the digital transition with the aim to cover the different aspects of the impact of the digital transition on Alberta’s labour market (OECD, 2022[1]). Data scientists, software developers and programmers are the most prominent roles at the core of the development of new digital technologies and the use of data throughout enterprises. Similarly, ICT technicians and managers play a key role in the deployment of digital tools and technologies and are examined in this chapter. Lastly, jobs that traditionally were not seen as digital, have increasingly been making use of digital technologies, notably, HR and marketing managers and specialists have become digital professionals in the last decade.

Figure 4.1 presents the list and grouping of digital occupations that will be analysed in this chapter. To ease comparison and simplify visualisation between Alberta and Canada, occupations are grouped into four broad categories.1 However, as Figure 4.1 shows, additional occupations have been included within each occupational group. The groups are the following:

  1. 1. Computer and data analysts / administrators,

  2. 2. Software developers, programmers, and engineers,

  3. 3. ICT technicians and data entry clerks, and

  4. 4. ICT and HR managers / marketing specialists

The computer and data analyst/administrator occupational group encompasses roles such as systems analysts and database administrators. This particular grouping is made as a result of their common reliance on data as a central aspect of their daily work tasks. For instance, systems analysts “conduct research, analyse and evaluate client information technology requirements, procedures or problems, and develop and implement proposals, recommendations, and plans to improve current or future information systems(ILO, 2016[2]). Database designers and administrators, instead, “design, develop, control, maintain and support the optimal performance and security of databases(ILO, 2016[2]).

The group of software developers, programmers, and engineers comprises occupations that are at the forefront of developing new software and hardware. For instance, UI/UX designers/developers2 who “develop and implement websites, web applications, application databases, and interactive web interfaces. [They also] Evaluate code to ensure that it is properly structured, meets industry standards, and is compatible with browsers and devices. Optimise website performance, scalability, and server-side code and processes (…)(U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2010[3]). Another example is the case of software developers, who “research, analyse and evaluate requirements for existing or new software applications and operating systems, and design, develop, test and maintain software solutions to meet these requirements(ILO, 2016[2]).

The third group comprises ICT technicians and data entry clerks. Occupations in this group are focused on the use of digital technologies, but typically have lower entry requirements than the rest of groups. Data entry clerks “enter coded, statistical, financial, and other numerical data into electronic equipment, computerised databases, spreadsheets, or other data repositories using a keyboard, mouse, or optical scanner, speech recognition software or other data entry tools. They enter data into mechanical and electronic devices to perform mathematical calculations(ILO, 2016[2]). Other occupations in this group are computer operators, network support specialists, and ICT operations technicians. The latter, for instance, are technicians that “support the day-to-day processing, operation and monitoring of information and communications technology systems, peripherals, hardware, software and related computer equipment to ensure optimal performance and identify any problems(ILO, 2016[2]).

The fourth and last group examined in this chapter pools together ICT and HR managers / marketing specialists. This group was traditionally not considered to be digital professionals, but due to the changing nature of their tasks can increasingly be considered digital. This group includes occupations such as ICT service managers, who “plan, direct and co-ordinate the acquisition, development, maintenance and use of computer and telecommunication systems, either as the manager of a department or as the general manager of an enterprise or organisation that does not have a hierarchy of managers”. (ILO, 2016[2])

The share of digital occupations in online job postings represents a non-negligible part of the demand in Canada at 9.8% in between January 2015 and September 2022. This share is slightly lower for Alberta with 7.8% but not very distant from the country average. While these jobs are a lower percentage of the total number of occupations, digital occupations and especially the jobs in groups 1 and 2 receive higher average wages. For instance, the average hourly wage in Alberta in 2021 was CAD 31.05, while a systems analyst earned CAD 45.60, a software engineer/designer earned CAD 45.2, and a computer programmer earned CAD 41.29 (AWSS, 2022[4]).

When comparing the relative position of Alberta against that of other provinces in Canada, analyses by ICTC and StatsCan show that Alberta lies among the most productive provinces by GDP in the ICT sector (Herron and Ivus, 2021[5]). However, Ontario remains the dominant ICT province in Canada, with an estimated GDP contribution to the total Canadian economy of approximately CAD 43.5 billion in 2020. Alberta ranks 4th in Canada by its ICT contribution to GDP with approximately one-quarter of the ICT GDP in Ontario (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.4 breaks down the proportion of job postings (OJPs) in digital occupations into the four broad groups defined in (OECD, 2022[1]). Over the period from 2015 to 2022, the largest share of job postings in digital occupations is found in Group 2 in both Alberta (36.7%) and Canada (40.5%) as well as in the United Kingdom and United States. This is in line with recent research by ICTC that indicates that roles such as software developers, data scientists, and full-stack developers are driving ICT growth in Alberta (Cutean and McLaughlin, 2019[6]). In particular, surveys of Alberta employers confirm significant demand for software developers, with over 60% of employers ranking this occupation as in- demand (Cutean and McLaughlin, 2019[6]). Other critical roles such as machine learning engineers are also in demand due to recent advancements in Alberta’s AI landscape and ongoing investment in the economy. For example, in early 2019, the Alberta Government announced a CAD 100 million plan to attract AI-based tech companies and further solidify the province’s position in the AI space.

Group 4 represents the second largest share of OJPS regarding digital occupations, both in Alberta and in Canada. This is driven in particular by the demand for IT project managers and HR labour specialists is large in both Alberta and Canada. Demand for these professions is a considerably smaller share in the United Kingdom and the United States, where the more technical roles of group 2 (i.e. developers and programmers) and of group 1 (i.e. computer and data analysts) are relatively more prevalent.

Group 1, the group that includes professionals that are focused on data work, such as computer and data analysts / administrators also represent a large share of total OJPs in digital occupations in Alberta (23.1%) and Canada (20.7%). Here the difference between Canada and the United Kingdom and the United States is less pronounced, meaning that the importance of professionals that are focused on data is similar in these countries.

Group 3: computer operators, computer support, network support and data entry jobs are the smallest part of online digital job postings, as they account for 10.2% of online job postings in Alberta, and in Canada. This is in line with the United Kingdom and the United States, although the demand is slightly lower in the United States at 7.8%.

Looking at how the number of OJPs for digital occupations has evolved over the years, it stands out that 2021 and 2022 had considerably more OJPs for digital occupations than the pre-pandemic years and the year 2020 (Figure 4.5). The decrease in the number of digital occupations in 2020 is unexpected as digital occupations are often easier to perform while working from home. It is surprising that, at the same time, there were non-digital occupations that were in high demand during the start of the pandemic, as been described earlier in Chapters 2 and 3.

Furthermore, the decrease in the number of digital occupations is rather small, and in 2021, still during the peak of the pandemic, it increased again. However, there is a small decrease in 2022 both in Alberta and in Canada as a whole, which might partially be because only OJPs in between January and September 2022 are available, which means that occupations with high seasonality and high demand in the summer are included. Besides that, as discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, demand for jobs that require a high school diploma or no diploma noticeably increased in 2022, and these jobs are often not digital, but part of more traditional sectors such as retail, construction and hospitality.

The data in Figure 4.6 indicates that job postings for digital occupations are not restricted to major cities like Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver but are also present in Alberta. In particular, Calgary and Edmonton have a high concentration of digital occupations’ job postings, with 40% and 30% respectively. This pattern is consistent with what was observed in chapter 1 for all occupations. Additionally, the specialised municipality “The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo” in north-eastern part of Alberta, which is known for its mining industry, has around 10% of digital occupations’ job postings. Notably, the use of digital technologies and data analysis is making its way into the mining sector. Digital technologies, in fact, can help improve efficiency, productivity, and decision-making in the mining industry. For instance, digital tools such as autonomous equipment, predictive maintenance, and simulation models can help reduce downtime and optimise production processes. Additionally, data analysis can provide insights into resource management, geology, and environmental impact, among other areas. The presence of digital occupations’ job postings in Wood Buffalo region, which is known for its mining industry, further supports the significance of digitalisation in this industry. Overall, these findings also demonstrate a heightened demand for digital professionals in Alberta.

In the following section, the trends for specific occupations within each group will be highlighted. The occupations were selected based on their representation in job descriptions, the trend in the number of job postings they experienced, and the availability of a sufficient number of job postings. Unlike in Chapter 3, however, occupations that had only a few job postings are not automatically excluded from the analysis, as they can serve as examples of the rapid growth of digital occupations in recent years. However, it will be noted if the number of job postings for a certain year is particularly low to ease the interpretation of the results.

The adoption on new digital technologies across a wide variety of businesses has triggered the demand for different kinds of professionals in the digital field. As an example, the demand for data analysts and administrators, in charge of analysing, interpreting, and displaying data using, in many cases, business intelligence tools, has been on the rise across most developed economies.

The analysis of the evolution of OJPs in Alberta in the period between January 2015 and September 2022 Figure 4.8 shows that the demands for data mining analysts, business intelligence analysts, and cyber security professionals have recorded the fastest growth rates, with a particular acceleration in recent years, after the COVID-19 crisis. In the case of data mining analysts, OJPs increased by an average of 104% per month in the period in between 2017 and the beginning of the pandemic relative to the period in between January 2015 and December 2016. Notably, the strong demand for these professionals in Alberta outpaced the demand in Canada as a whole in the period examined. Data mining analysts and business intelligence analysts are even among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations which were discussed in Chapter 3.

The high demand for data mining analysts in Alberta is driven by the massive increase in data production and the potential for the digital economy to utilise it. The Digital Revolution has made data more readily available, making data mining analysts crucial for businesses. The role of a data mining analyst involves analysing large data sets to uncover patterns and relationships between variables, and using those patterns to make predictions. According to the Alberta Learning Information Service (see (AWSS, 2022[4]), data mining analysts are considered an “emerging” occupation in Alberta, potentially evolving from existing occupations like econometricians or statisticians, or arising due to changing consumer needs and technological advancements.

While the analysis of OJPs shows that data miners are in increasing demand in Alberta’s labour market, further evidence (AWSS, 2022[4]) shows that this not an entry-level position and that employers generally prefer applicants who have several years of related experience. The minimum academic requirement is a bachelor’s degree in data science, data analytics, computing science, statistics, computer engineering, or another highly quantitative field. A graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) usually is required for higher-level positions. A doctoral degree (PhD) may also be required to conduct independent research.

Similar to data-mining analysts, the job of business intelligence analysts (within the NOC category 4136, Market Research Specialists) has experienced a significant growth in demand in the pre-pandemic period. This upcoming trend extends to Alberta (and to a lesser extent to Canada as a whole) where the number of available job postings published for those roles each month increased by an average of 71% in the period in between 2017 and the months preceding the COVID-19 crisis (February 2020), (46% in Canada in the same period). Business intelligence analysts are professionals in charge of “producing financial and market intelligence by querying data repositories and generating periodic reports and of devising methods for identifying data patterns and trends in available information sources(U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2018[8]). These specialists have become key figures, especially in medium to large enterprises that are particularly interested in researching the market perception and potential of a brand, product, or service, identifying factors that may enhance acceptance of their brand, product, or service and determining the nature and size of market segments.

Alberta has no specific academic qualifications requirements to enter the occupation. However, computer skills and a degree or diploma in marketing are definite assets as well as degrees in marketing, statistics, and social research methods (AWSS, 2022[4]). The occupation is not regulated in Alberta, but the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) offers a voluntary Certified Marketing Research Professional (CMRP) designation to members who meet the required qualifications and are able to demonstrate competency and mastery of theoretical and practical knowledge in marketing research (MRIA, 2022[9]).

Regarding remunerations, data from the 2021 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey shows that workers employed in the occupational category encompassing Business Intelligence Analysts and Market Research Specialists (namely Business development officers and marketing researchers and consultants) receive a wage that is well above the average for the province (CAD 49.95) (ALIS, 2022[10]). The highest paid professionals in this area can be found in the Transportation and Warehousing as well as in the Oil and Gas Extraction sectors, with average annual wages of up to more than CAD 150 000 in both sectors.

Results in Figure 4.9 show the evolution of the average number OJPs per month in the period in between 2015 and September 2022. The figure depicts the dynamics before, during and after the COVID-19 crisis hit Alberta’s (and Canada) economy. The analysis shows the significant increase in the volume of OJPs for both Data Mining Analysts (+104%) and Business Intelligence Analysts (+76%) up until the end of February 2020. A strong contraction, however, followed during the peak of the pandemic3 (March 2020 until December 2020) with the number of job postings for both occupations almost halving (both in Alberta and in Canada as a whole). For context, the average decline in OJPs for all jobs with above average demand pre-pandemic was 11.7%. Preliminary evidence on the recovery period shows a very strong rebound of the demand for both occupations, with a number of OJPs that exceeds the volume in the pre-pandemic period. While part of this result is attributable to the strong recovery experienced by both Alberta and Canada in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, results also show that the growth dynamics already taking place before the pandemic for these occupations have resumed in Alberta’s post-pandemic labour market and that shortages are likely to emerge as a consequence in case the supply of experienced workers in these occupations were not to meet the increased demand.

The growth in job postings published online for data scientists and data engineers far outpaced that of other occupations in the same group. At the same time, the number of OJPs in the first year was too low to be considered for the top-growing occupations in Chapter 3. The tasks performed by data scientists and data engineers are quite similar to those performed by data analysts. Analyses in Figure 4.10 present the trends in OJPs for these two occupations, highlighting their particularly rapid growth.

Results show that job postings published online for data scientists and data engineers in Alberta have grown almost exponentially, starting from a handful of postings in 2015 to approximately 130 and 80 new job postings in the first nine months of 2022 respectively. While the growth was significant in Alberta, it was even more pronounced in Canada as a whole, note the difference in axis. Interestingly, the demand for data scientists grew more quickly in Alberta, while in Canada as a whole the growth for data engineers was more pronounced. The increase in demand suggests that advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence have created a market with a large need for these types of professionals.

Data scientists, data engineers as well as data mining analysts are still an emerging occupation in Alberta, it is difficult to trace all their traits and specificities in official labour market statistics. They, however, belong to the broader occupational group of “Database analysts and data administrators” (NOC 2172). Wage analysis for this occupational group in Alberta shows that professionals employed in this occupation in Alberta receive, on average, CAD 45.35 per hour, a wage that is significantly above the average in the province (CAD 31.05 per hour). The wage paid to professionals employed in this category can be one of the signals of its robust demand as employers may struggle to find qualified professionals in this area.

Among the various computer and data related occupations in group 1, particular shortages have been reported in the area of cyber security (World Economic Forum, 2022[11]) across a variety of countries. As firms and businesses use more data and digitise their production processes, also the demand for cyber security professionals has been increasing, outpacing the aggregate demand across the rest of occupations in a variety of countries (OECD, forthcoming). In particular, the expansion in the demand for digital-related occupations across labour markets is a key driver behind the increase in the demand for cyber security professionals as firms adopt new digital technologies that are potentially threatened by software vulnerability, attacks and malwares.

In Alberta, although to a lesser extent than in the rest of Canada, new OJPs for cyber security engineers and analysts have also been on the rise, going from about 300 OJPs in 2015 to more than 500 new jobs posted in Alberta in 2021. Notably, while the cluster Toronto-Mississauga-Markham makes roughly 40% of the OJPs for cyber security workforce in Canada, Edmonton and Calgary also represent important hubs for the demand of cyber security professionals with a higher geographical concentration of cyber security jobs than in the neighbouring British Columbia (Figure 4.12).

Table 4.1 analyses the skill bundles (the set of skills that are most relevant in employers’ demands across OJPs) associated to the occupations of data analysts / administrators.4 Results show that ‘data warehousing’ skills (i.e. the process of collecting and managing data from different sources to provide meaningful business analyses) are very relevant across job requirements for group 1 occupations that are focused on data: Data mining analysts, data engineers and database administrators in Canada. This result reflects the increasing importance that the collection of raw data (in particular the data collected from consumers’ demand or shipping routes) is having across all sectors, pushing firms to find new solutions to store and analyse those data for marketing strategies or production processes. Related to this trend, ‘data visualisation’, an interdisciplinary field that deals with the graphic representation of data, is also becoming essential to analyse massive amounts of information and make data-driven decisions based on them. This knowledge area is also particularly relevant for data mining and analysts who need to be able to convey complex statistics in clear and succinct data visualisations to managers and decision-makers within firms.

The ability to analyse big data with new statistical tools also plays a central role in the tasks carried out by data scientists in Canada and Alberta. The words ‘big data’ usually refer to large, complex datasets, mostly arising from new and unstructured data sources such as those collected by smartphones, mobile applications as well as from interconnected devices used in production (OECD, 2022[1]). Compared to traditional data, big data are more voluminous, implying that specific software and statistical methods need to be used to analyse them.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are the key complementary knowledge areas to big data and information contained in OJPs indicates that they are highly relevant in jobs where the knowledge of big data is also important (i.e. computer and data analysis occupations). Finally, the analysis of the employers’ demand in Alberta (Table 4.1) also shows the increasing relevance of open-source platforms and software libraries such as Tensorflow.5

Data available on the typical qualification requirements mentioned across OJPs for both data engineers and data scientists indicate that employers in this area usually seek candidates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. In the case of data scientist, a master’s degree is also typically mentioned as a potential entry requirement in the profession.

For the computer occupations, which are also part of the first group of digital occupations, cyber security professionals require a rather specific skill bundle that sets them apart from most of the other computer occupations. Data from online job postings reveal, for instance, that employers in Canada seek cybersecurity professionals with a strong knowledge of information security and network security, as well as of IT management. Along with these very specific technical skills, cybersecurity professionals are also expected to know cyber security standards, guidelines and best practices to manage cybersecurity risks in firms and organisations. One example is the demand, across a wide variety of OJPs for cybersecurity professionals, of NIST Cybersecurity Framework (a set of guidelines published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)) aimed at mitigating an organisation’s cybersecurity risks by providing a taxonomy on cybersecurity outcomes and a methodology to assess and manage them. Information contained in OJPs (Table 4.1) also indicates that bachelor’s degree in computer science is the most typical educational requirement across all computer occupations, data analysts and administrators.

A relatively large share of OJPs for digital occupations in Alberta (and in Canada) seek hiring software developers, programmers or engineers. When disaggregating the demand into finer-grained occupations and roles, data from job postings shows that the bulk of the Albertan demand across these occupations concentrates in vacancies for software developers and engineers as well as computer systems engineers/architects.

Software engineers6 design and work on software used in applications, operating systems, information warehouses, databases, and telecommunications. Alberta’s labour market employs approximately 4 700 software engineers with an employment outlook (+2% over the next 5 years) which is above that of the average occupation in Alberta. Data from the Albertan Wage and Salary Survey (AWSS) confirm the significant demand for these professionals in Alberta, signalling also that professionals in this category earn significantly more than the average worker in Alberta (CAD 45.20 per hour compared to the average CAD 31.05) (AWSS, 2022[4]). Also, 41% of employers surveyed by the AWSS in the last 2 years reported to have hired a software developers. Some 34% indicated to have struggled to find candidates with adequate skills and qualifications to fill the jobs and 19% of employers had reported unfilled vacancies for more than 4 months.

A relatively smaller number of job postings are opened in Alberta for professionals working specifically with web applications (web developers) or with user interfaces and experience (UI/UX designers or developers). While smaller in size, these occupations have recorded very fast rates of growth in the Alberta online labour market (see Figure 4.13), outpacing the growth (though not the volume) of other digital occupations in the same group. Their growth is also faster in Alberta than in Canada as a whole.

Interestingly, on the one hand most of the skill requirements of digital occupations in Table 4.2 are rather technical, spanning from Bitbucket – a Git-based source code repository written in Python- to Typescript, free and open-source programming language developed and maintained by Microsoft. On the other hand, (less digitally-related) skills such as design thinking, online marketing, advertising skills as well as creative design are knowledge areas shown to be particularly relevant for new and emerging occupations such as web designers, developers, video game designers and UI/UX experts. This suggests the growing importance of hybrid skill sets also in technical and narrow occupations like those in the digital world. Knowledge of online marketing, for instance, is particularly important for web designers who are often in charge not only of the technical development of webpages, but also of their functioning as tools for e-commerce activities and advertising. Similarly, design thinking (a non-linear, iterative process that is used to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototypes) is a key high-level cognitive skill for User Interface and User Design developers who are tasked to understand how individual interact with webpages and applications in order to make them more agile and responsive to users’ needs.

Analysis of the information contained in OJPs also shows that several occupations in the group of software development and programming professionals require the knowledge of Java. Java is a general-purpose programming language and computing platform that allows users to run code on all platforms that support Java without needing to recompile the code. Knowledge of this programming language, which has become the standard in the industry, is particularly relevant for computer systems engineers and architects as well as software developers and engineers. Java is also relevant for web developers and computer programmers who also require it extensively along with knowledge of Bootstrap (an open and free HTML, CSS and JS toolkit that is used by web developers and computer programmes to create responsive website designs quickly and effectively).

When analysing the typical demand for qualifications, most – if not all- vacancies for software developers, programmers and engineers demand at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Some occupations, in particular web developers and computer programmers also mention (to a lesser extent) an associate’s degree as entry requirement for the profession while a master’s or even a doctorate degree can be required to access jobs as an hardware engineer.

ICT occupations span a large set of different roles which go from routine jobs to managerial positions in charge of managing the work of IT teams within firms. All these roles respond to the ICT needs of businesses in different way, but they are all key for different reasons.

Among digital occupations with a relatively “routine intensive” set of tasks, computer support technicians provide support for the deployment and maintenance of computer infrastructure and web technology. They also contribute to the diagnosis and resolution of technical problems. As mentioned, although some of the tasks of these jobs may be more routine-intensive than those of other digital occupations, they are still essentials for ICT infrastructures to work properly (OECD, 2022[1]). Similarly, as countries and firms transit towards a fully digital environment, the work of data entry clerks may be particularly important in sectors that are still in the process of digitalising.

The analysis of the trends in OJPs shows that the demand for data entry clerks has shown a relatively modest growth rate in between 2015 and September 2022 (Figure 4.14) when compared to other digital professions, including the other ICT technicians of group three, especially in Alberta. The slow pace by which the demand for these professionals has expanded may reflect the automation of several of the tasks carried out by workers in these occupations. Increasingly, for instance, software is able to autonomously detect problems in a computer and suggest ways to fix them to their users. The expansion in the use of cloud technologies, chatbots and artificial intelligence is also likely playing a role in the profession, where smaller-scale computer issues are typically dealt using pre-defined solutions suggested by automated interactive support tools.

The rate of growth for digital professions in the group of ICT technicians and data entry clerks is lower in Canada than in Alberta. This holds for all occupations in the group, except for data entry clerks. The difference is most pronounced for computer operators, as the number of OJPs for this position nearly tripled in Alberta in between January 2015 and September 2022, while it increased by around 50% for Canada as a whole. At the same time in absolute terms the number of OJPs for this job are very low, both in Alberta (30 OJPs in 2021) and in Canada as a whole (150 in 2021). Computer operators “prepare and operate computer hardware systems to process business, scientific, engineering, or other data, according to operating instructions, and observe the operation of computers which include, but are not limited to, mainframes, minicomputers, and networks of personal computers, ensuring usage as efficiently as possible.” (ERI, 2023[12]).

Among the skills requested of computer support specialists (Table 4.3), the analysis of OJPs indicate that the knowledge of web servers as well as of general IT management skills (i.e. the ability to monitor and administer an organisation’s information technology systems including its hardware, software and networks) are amongst the most typically demanded skills by employers in Canada. Computer operators similarly need to be able to administer hardware, but the skills that are required are more hands-on such as printer repair and being able to fix desktops.

Skills that are required for the position of data entry clerk are very different from the rest of the skills in this group. Skills like typing and dictation are of the greatest importance for this role, further demonstrating why the tasks performed by this role are at risk of automation.

Results in Figure 4.15 show that new vacancies for managerial roles in the digital sphere, such as Chief Information Officers / directors of IT (CIOs) and IT project managers have increased significantly both in Canada and in Alberta. New vacancies for both positions have been steadily growing in the Albertan and Canadian labour markets but have especially increased rapidly starting from the second half of 2020 after a plateau in early 2020. In absolute terms, the number of OJPs for IT project managers went from around 590 OJPs in 2020 to around 950 in 2021.

The pandemic boosted the use of online activity in ways that are likely to keep persisting post pandemic, such as the use of teleworking, e-commerce, e-health and e-payments (OECD, 2020[13]). This increased use of technology also establishes a need for firms and people to use increasingly sophisticated digital solutions (OECD, 2020[13]). IT project managers “manage, co-ordinate, and establish priorities for complete life-cycle of Information Technology projects including the planning, design, programming, testing, and implementation of solutions designed to meet the project requirements.” (ERI, 2023[14]). The role of IT project manager is therefore especially useful when companies need to navigate their increasingly digitalised environment or need to develop IT solutions to their customer’s problems.

The demand for HR and marketing professionals has followed a similar pattern to that if the managerial functions. This expansion in demand partially reflects the notable changes within certain occupations that are becoming much more digitised. For instance, while the volume of new job postings for marketing managers has increased notably (Figure 4.16) the profession has also changed qualitatively over time in the type of skills that are required, as will be discussed in the next subsection. It is fair to say that, with the advent of internet and of e-commerce, marketing roles have also become much more ‘digital’, as marketing activities have shifted from traditional channels (newspapers and traditional advertising) to the internet.

The growth in OJPs for HR professionals followed a similar pattern in both Alberta and Canada. These kinds of jobs have traditionally been classified as non-digital jobs that are tasked with for instance recruitment, employee development, performance management and employee retention. But these days, those aspects of HR increasingly use digital components (Mazurchenko and Maršíková, 2019[15]). So while the tasks of HR professionals are for instance still to “select or help to select the most qualified applicants, develop, implement, evaluate, and administer a total rewards structure that includes compensation, pensions, benefits and employee assistance programs, and to define performance standards consistent with the organisation’s mission, culture, environment, strategy and structure.” (ALIS, 2022[16]), HR professionals make use of digital tools to perform them.

The skill requirements found through the analysis of OJPs further demonstrates why these management, marketing and HR professions can now be considered digital occupations. In terms of qualifications, all occupations in this group typically require a bachelor’s degree, but rarely a bachelor’s in computer science.

Chief Information Officers / directors of IT are usually required to have strong managerial and strategic thinking skills but that those traits merge strongly with more technical skills. Agile management skills (i.e. practices that include requirements discovery and solutions improvement through the collaborative effort of self-organising and cross-functional teams) or Waterfall Development Process (i.e. the sequential development process that flows like a waterfall through all phases of a project such as analysis, design, development, and testing) are very relevant for Chief Information Officers along with the knowledge of Software Quality Assurance tools. IT project managers similarly need to have technical knowledge about software development technologies, principles and quality assurance, mixed with managerial skills.

Online marketing, web analytics, online advertisement skills as well as the software Pardot are among the top 5 most relevant skills for marketing managers and marketing specialists, signalling the key relevance of digital skills for these professions. Pardot, which changed its name to “Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement” in 2022, is an online marketing automation platform, which can for instance help their users to track customer behaviours and create digital marketing campaigns (Salesforceben.com, 2022[17]).

Both types of HR professionals are required to know how to use SAP Successfactors, which is a cloud-based platform that has been developed to assist with human capital management (SAP Press, 2019[18]). HR managers additionally need to possess non-technical skills such as employee relations and business consulting / strategy. While for human resources / labour relations specialists the knowledge of SAP SF is supplemented with needing to know Human resource management systems, PagerDuty and Ultipro. “Human resource management systems” is a general term that refers to any “software applications that are used to store employee information and support various human resource functions (SHRM, 2022[19])”. UltiPro is a particular human resource management system, as is SAP Successfactors. By contrast, PagerDuty is a tool that alerts teams whenever incidents occur anywhere in their business process (Harris, 2017[20]).

Assessing how digital skill demands increase in intensity and diffuse across different occupations and sectors is key to understanding the speed by which the digital transition is changing workplaces and, in turn, key to anticipating future possible bottlenecks and shortages in the labour market. Digital skills might be crucial for the digital occupations in the four groups that were just discussed, but increasingly they have also become important in many more jobs that are not traditionally digital occupations.

The granularity of the information contained in OJPs allows to pin down where and when specific digital technologies have been demanded by employers and to understand whether those technological demands are spreading from narrow sets of occupations to an increasing number of sectors and workers. When discussing the speed of diffusion of digital skill demands, for instance, it is evident that the knowledge of how to use social media, spreadsheets or even email was not mainstream 10 to 15 years ago. Nowadays, instead, a vast majority of workers (regardless of the sectors they are employed in) are familiar with at least some of these digital technologies and use them in their jobs.

To put it differently and making a broad example, the frequency and the importance/relevance with which the knowledge of digital spreadsheets (for instance MS Excel) is required by employers has not only increased in its absolute frequency (i.e. the number of times it is mentioned) but it is also, and perhaps more importantly, required in a wider range of different jobs from the service sector (i.e. to handle requests from customers) to manufacturing (i.e. to analyse shipping of products) up to the healthcare sector (i.e. to keep track of patients’ records). The digital landscape is changing fast and many digital technologies that were ‘niche’ just some years ago, are now starting to permeate a wider range of jobs across different sectors.

The analysis below uses machine learning indicators (see Box 4.1) to crunch the information contained in OJPs to track the speed by which different types of (digital) skill demands have been spreading across occupations in the Alberta’s labour market over the period in between 2015 and 2022.

As labour markets evolve rapidly, the intensity of skill demands changes over time. Each skill analysed in the database of online job postings may increase its diffusion across workplaces (if it is mentioned in a wider variety of jobs) or decrease it (if it is mentioned in a narrower set of jobs). The measure of speed of diffusion for digital skills presented below is an index of the diffusion of the skill at hand compared to average speed of diffusion across all skills analysed in the data. This empirical approach allows, for instance, to assess whether (and how much) a specific digital skill (say social media) has been diffusing faster than the average skill.

In the last decade, the use of interconnected devices, the expansion of e-commerce and of the use of internet led to the creation and exponential collection of data at a large scale. Every day, humanity generates an incredible two and a half quintillion bytes of data (OECD, 2022[1]) where Google alone processes more than 20 petabytes of data, which includes around 3.5 billion search queries. These already astonishing figures are poised to increase in the future as more and more digital devices connect to the internet.

It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that firms and businesses consider data (and their analysis) a source of extraordinary value. In order to make the most of such wealth of information, new digital professionals are increasingly tasked to make sense of large sets of information and “advanced data analysis skills” such as big data, machine learning, data science and visualisation have been on the rise in the demand of employers across different sectors. Analyses based on survey of employers carried out by ICTC in Alberta confirms that the majority of Albertan’s businesses interviewed expressed the expectation of a substantial scale-up in the adoption of digital technologies, accelerating demand for digitally-skilled workers such as data scientists (Cutean and McLaughlin, 2019[6]).

Figure 4.17 tracks the intensity with which advanced data analysis skills have been required over time in a wide range of different occupations over the period in between 2015 and 2022. Results in Figure 4.17 indicate that the demand for advanced data analysis skills has been diffusing across Alberta’s occupations and sectors up to 4.6 times faster than the demand for the average skills, signalling that the demand for these skills has increased in a broad range of job roles across Alberta’s workplaces.

The demand for data science and machine learning skills has spread particularly fast in Alberta’s labour market, diffusing at a speed that is almost 5.6 times faster than the demand for the average skill. Notably, the knowledge of data science entails the use of mathematical methods, processes, algorithms, and information systems to extract knowledge and insights from noisy, structured and unstructured data. Data science, hence, is at the core of the development of artificial intelligence (AI), one of the priorities in Alberta’s digital strategy in 2019, and it leverages algorithmic techniques to analyse data and produce outputs that mimic human intelligence.

In addition, it is noted that data science is becoming prominent in a variety of different sectors, and notably, that digital occupations within the healthcare sector are forecasted to grow substantially over the next years. Employers in Alberta expect that the increase in demand for roles like data scientists will be intertwined with the emergence of technological developments and the milestones among key subsectors like health tech and biotech. In this context, data visualisation skill demands have also been spreading fast in Alberta, diffusing around 5 times faster than the average skill demand. These results suggest the increasing importance of being able to summarise and provide context to the large volume of data that firms are constantly ingesting so that managers and businesses in general can understand complex patterns and take informed decisions based on the visualisation of large amounts of information.

The rapid adoption of AI in the workplace (in Alberta the speed of diffusion is more than 4.6 times faster than the average demand for skills) also creates the potential of productivity gains, which this technology can bring to firms and society but also fears that workers may be significantly displaced in their jobs and obliged to face painful transitions to different roles. In recent years, a lively debate has emerged as to whether AI should be treated differently from ‘traditional’ automation technologies that perform narrow routine tasks.

Several commentators argue that AI, differently from more traditional automation technologies, is making significant progress in replicating a particular aspect of intelligence, namely ‘prediction’, this latter being central to decision making and an essential aspect of high-skilled jobs in the healthcare or business sector. New examples, showing the ability of AI to perform such tasks, are being developed at a fast pace. GPT-3 is, for instance, one of the most sophisticated AI-powered Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm to this date. The current version of GPT-3 (Chat GPT) is able to answer complex medical questions and to correctly identify a disease from the simple description of its underlying symptoms, even suggesting the necessary treatment for the disease at hand. Notably, GPT-3 capabilities are transversal, ranging from its ability to write new software code to that of programming mobile applications or to autonomously produce poems and journal articles when prompted with a few lines of text (OECD, 2022[1]).

The recent narrative underlines that the increasing ability of machines to perform cognitive tasks as effectively as humans is poised to have an enormous impact on the way services are delivered, products are manufactured and innovation itself is created. This poses several challenges for countries, policy makers and workers. One major challenge stems from the need for individuals to develop adequate digital and cognitive skills to interact with AI. AI, in fact, does not operate in a vacuum and much of its potential is determined by how well humans are able to interact with it by supplying the correct inputs and understanding the outputs that are produced in return. Similarly, individuals will need to be trained on how to detect biases, fakes and mistakes that could result from the misuse of AI. In the context of Alberta, the rapid adoption of AI across workplaces calls for careful monitoring of how this technology will reshape the demands for workers and skills across workplaces. It is imperative for professionals to be educated on ethics in data governance, analytics and AI technologies. While benefits are largely expected for Alberta’s society and economy, policy makers will need to support individuals, in particularly those with low digital skills, to develop digital-relevant skills that enables them to interact with AI-powered technologies.

Programming skills encompass a variety of different aspects related to the creation, management, and use of software code (OECD, 2022[1]). Among the skills grouped under this label, results in Figure 4.18 analyse the speed of diffusion of skills demands in specific areas:

  1. 1. programming principles (i.e. the basic principles of programming),

  2. 2. software development principles (i.e. the set of recommendations that engineers should follow during programme implementation to write clear and maintainable code),

  3. 3. software development methodologies (i.e. the processes used in software development that define the strategies and phases used to organise and write the software code, encompassing different approaches such as Agile, Waterfall or Lean),

  4. 4. scripting languages skills (i.e. the knowledge of specific computer languages that can be used to give instructions to other software, such as a web browser, server, or standalone applications as many of today’s most popular coding languages are scripting languages, such as JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Python, and several others)

Results in Figure 4.18 show that the demand for scripting languages skills permeated Alberta’s labour market more than six times faster than the average skill demand in the period in between 2015 and 2022. Similarly, skills demands in the area of software development principles and software development methodologies diffused across occupations and job roles up to 7 and 6.2 times faster than the average skill demand. While the demand in the area of programming principles seems rather limited compared to the other skills, it is still permeating the labour market one time faster than the average skill. These results are in line with the expectations of employers in Alberta. Surveys of Albertans businesses (ICTC) indicate, for instance, that Software developers are at the top of the in-high demand occupations, with more than 60% of employers reporting shortages for these professionals (Cutean and McLaughlin, 2019[6]). Such demand is not concentrated in a narrow sector, but it is reported to have spread across a variety of sectors, including- notably- healthcare. In particular, surveys run by ICTC indicate that key changes ranging from electronic file management to AR/VR assisted remote surgeries, and even advancements in the biotech sector are spurring the demand for digital professionals, notably including software developers. These professionals are also expected to grow in demand in clean-tech sector (43% of employers interviewed rank software developers in high demand) but similar (or even more severe) shortages are reported in the digital media industry (Cutean and McLaughlin, 2019[6]).

All in all, it is clear that both programming skills and advanced data analytics skills are rapidly gaining importance in both the Albertan and Canadian labour market. Of course, these skill sets are just snapshots of the larger digitalisation movement, but the fact that both these skill sets are diffusing five times faster than the average skill can be seen as evidence that digital skills are in high demand for many kinds of jobs within all kinds of different sectors.


[10] ALIS (2022), Business development officers and marketing researchers and consultants, https://alis.alberta.ca/occinfo/wages-and-salaries-in-alberta/business-development-officers-and-marketing-researchers-and-consultants/4163/.

[16] ALIS (2022), Human Resources Professional, https://alis.alberta.ca/occinfo/occupations-in-alberta/occupation-profiles/human-resources-professional/ (accessed on  January 2023).

[4] AWSS (2022), Alberta Learning Information Service, https://alis.alberta.ca/.

[6] Cutean, A. and R. McLaughlin (2019), Digital Future for Alberta: An Analysis of Digital Occupations in Alberta’s High-growth Sectors.

[12] ERI (2023), Computer Operator Salary in Alberta, Canada, https://www.erieri.com/salary/job/computer-operator/canada/alberta (accessed on  January 2023).

[14] ERI (2023), IT Project Manager, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salary/job/it-project-manager/canada/alberta (accessed on  January 2023).

[20] Harris, R. (2017), PagerDuty brings machine learning to management platform, https://appdevelopermagazine.com/5512/2017/9/11/pagerduty-brings-machine-learning-to-management-platform/ (accessed on  January 2023).

[5] Herron, C. and M. Ivus (2021), Digital Economy Annual Review 2020, https://www.ictc-ctic.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/ICTC-Annual-Review-2020-EN.pdf.

[2] ILO (2016), Part III: Definitions of major groups, sub-major groups, minor groups and unit groups, https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/docs/groupdefn08.pdf.

[15] Mazurchenko, A. and K. Maršíková (2019), “Digitally-Powered Human Resource Management: Skills and Roles in the Digital Era”, Acta Informatica Pragensia, Vol. 8/2, pp. 72-87, https://doi.org/10.18267/j.aip.125.

[9] MRIA (2022), Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, https://mria-arim.ca/Individual (accessed on  November 2022).

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[13] OECD (2020), Digital Transformation in the Age of COVID-19: Building Resilience and Bridging Divides, Digital Economy Outook 2020 Supplement, http://www.oecd.org/digital/digital-economy-outlook-covid.pdf.

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[18] SAP Press (2019), https://learning.sap-press.com/sap-successfactors, https://learning.sap-press.com/sap-successfactors (accessed on  January 2023).

[19] SHRM (2022), Human Resource Management System (HRMS), https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-glossary/pages/human-resource-management-system-hrms.aspx (accessed on  January 2023).

[7] Statistics Canada (2022), 2021 Census - Boundary files, https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/geo/sip-pis/boundary-limites/index2021-eng.cfm?year=21 (accessed on  June 2023).

[8] U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (2018), 2010 Standard Occupational Classification System, https://www.bls.gov/soc/2010/2010_major_groups.htm (accessed on  2022).

[3] U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (2010), Standard Occupational Classification, https://www.bls.gov/soc/2010/#classification (accessed on 11 July 2023).

[11] World Economic Forum (2022), Global Risks Report 2022, https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-report-2022/.


← 1. The groupings are stem from the OECD publication Skills for the Digital Transition: Assessing Recent Trends Using Big Data (OECD, 2022[1]) and are expanded for this report.

← 2. These fall under the six-digit SOC category of web developers.

← 3. The period in between March 2020 and December 2020 is here considered the peak of the pandemic consistently with the recovery in total employment experienced in 2021 (see Figure 1.1 in Chapter 1). Data on OJPs show that, by January 2021, the volume of job postings in Canada recovered to its pre-pandemic levels and that the most intense impact of the crisis was felt in between March and December 2020 (see Figure 1.2 in Chapter 1).

← 4. The skill relevancy scores are calculated following the methodology that is explained in Annex C.

← 5. TensorFlow is an open-source platform that allows to operate machine learning and artificial intelligence in a variety of different contexts.

← 6. Included in the NOC 2173, Software engineers and designers.

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