Soft skills versus digital skills

New poll finds Canadian workers want to re-skill but are being pulled in two directions

Athabasca University study finds 3 in 4 Canadian employees want to learn new skills just to keep up with their job’s changing needs, including post-pandemic interpersonal re-skilling

Athabasca, Alberta (Tuesday, March 7, 2023) – New research by Athabasca University (AU) has found that more than three-quarters of Canadian employees (77 per cent) want to re-skill just to keep up with their job’s changing needs, with digital skills being a top priority among 70 per cent of respondents.

At the same time, however, another priority is competing for attention. Three-quarters of employees (74 per cent) also want to improve their interpersonal, or soft skills, such as communication style, conflict resolution capabilities, relatability, and team-building.

Dr. Alex Clark, president of Athabasca University, says the findings suggest Canadian workers are feeling pressure to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world but are also feeling the effects of pandemic isolation and feel a need for an interpersonal skills “reset.”

“The data from this study is telling us that Canadians almost can’t keep up with the dizzying pace of technological growth in the workplace, yet our need to improve skills that support better human connections has never been greater,” says Clark. “After experiencing such acute isolation due to COVID-19, it’s almost like we need some post-pandemic interpersonal re-skilling, hence our deep thirst to take more courses to improve our leadership-focused soft skills.”

The study, The Great Evolution: Mapping New Workplace Dynamics and Desires, was a cross-Canada survey administered to a representative sample of Canadians. It explored the country’s attitudes and expectations for the future of work in tomorrow’s post-pandemic era.

Canadian workers see growing value in micro-credentials

Some 63 per cent of Canadian workers say they want to increase their value at work through courses that don’t demand too much of their time. Specifically, 58 per cent have taken micro-credential courses before. These short, flexible courses develop knowledge, skills, and competencies in a focused area of learning. In fact, almost half (48 per cent) of Canadian employees say they have become more ambitious in their career aspirations since the pandemic.

“Canadians are no longer waiting for their employer to guide them. They want to increase their value in the marketplace—not just in their current job,” says Clark. “It’s like they’re channelling their own inner entrepreneur, and they want to grow on their own terms.”

Canadian employees conflicted in their drive to compete, while protecting work-life balance

Seventy-two per cent say they have a desire to deepen their work expertise to advance their careers. Despite these ambitions, 72 per cent also say since the pandemic, they have become much more protective of their work-life balance. Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of workers acknowledge having experienced some prior workplace exhaustion, saying they are now guarding the pace of their work to make sure they don’t burn out like they did before.

Despite these precautions, Canadian workers are still deeply feeling the effects of the current labour shortage: 70 per cent of employees report that being over-extended and under-staffed is one of the most critical workplace challenges today. Some 59 per cent of workers also say they have become busier than they ever were before.

Clark notes that the findings highlight a need to find balance between having aspirational learning and growth goals, and finding the time to realize those goals, all while safeguarding precious work-life balance.

“Athabasca University is known as Canada’s Open University because anyone can study with us—and from anywhere,” says Clark. “We give our students the flexibility to learn on their own terms, whether that’s pursuing traditional academic degrees, or for reskilling and up-skilling with micro-credentials.”

Interestingly, while Canadian workers strive to evolve, they don’t necessarily feel like their employers are keeping pace. Sixty-two per cent of Canadian employees say that companies today are not advanced enough in their thinking. “It appears companies have an opportunity to catch up to Canadian workers’ innovation-driven mindsets,” adds Clark.

About the Study: The Great Evolution: Mapping New Workplace Dynamics & Desires

These are the results of a survey conducted by Athabasca University, from January 6-10, 2023, among a nationally representative sample of n=1,507 Canadians who are members of the online Angus Reid Forum, balanced and weighted on age, gender, region and education. This included a sub-sample of n=831 full-time and part-time employed Canadians. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the total sample size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points at a 95% confidence level, while a probability sample of the employed Canadians sample would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The survey was offered in both English and French.

About Athabasca University (AU)

Athabasca University (AU) is one of the world’s foremost and fastest-growing online and open education institutions, serving over 43,000 students across 87 countries. AU is the second-largest university in Alberta. AU offers online Bachelors, Masters, and PhD programs alongside online courses for both personal learning and professional development. It is uniquely founded on the principles of flexibility and openness, giving students control over their studies so they can learn whenever and wherever it is right for them. For more information, please visit:


For more information:

Paige Calvert, Edery & Lord Communications

778-997-4421 |

Updated June 20, 2024 by Digital & Web Operations (