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Further and Further Away:

Canada’s unrealized digital potential

November 2022

Further and Further Away: Canada’s unrealized digital potential


Viet Vu

Viet Vu


  • Shilbee Kim
  • Sarah Doyle
  • Sean Mullin
  • Mark Hazelden
  • Steven Denney
  • David A. Wolfe
  • Nina Rafeek Dow
  • Mariana Rodrigues



Executive Summary

Technology adoption in the labour market will only continue to intensify. But how businesses and workers use technology—and to what degree—stands to play a central role in our capacity to innovate successfully, and grow the Canadian economy across new and legacy industries.

In our 2018 report, Better, Faster, Stronger, we explored the dual challenge of lagging technology adoption and disrupted labour in Ontario. We then identified strategies on how businesses can adopt new technologies to stay competitive, while ensuring workers are equipped with the skills they need to adapt and thrive in a changing labour environment.

Building on this research, we examine the manner in which technology and tech adoption has impacted tech workers and their jobs across 500 occupations in Canada. Using individual-level data from four Canadian census waves spanning from 2001 to 2016, along with a defined analytical framework of worker productivity and hourly pay, we set out to understand how the impact of technology adoption has changed tech work over the 15-year study period. This report covers up to 2016, as this is the most recent dataset from Census Canada available.

Using regressional analysis, we also identify specific inequities in pay and labour participation faced by workers belonging to identity groups that have been historically marginalized in Canada. Our research has found that systemic labour market inequities continue to persist, and, in some cases, have gotten worse, in that there are new inequities in 2016 that did not exist in 2001.

The results of the report overwhelmingly show that Canada is lagging behind on nurturing, developing, and using our digital talent. Pay gaps and the continued marginalization of participation in tech work has shown that those who create and use technologies in Canada do not represent those who live and work here. Without their participation, we risk missing out on valuable insights, talent, and experience that can shape future technologies.

Top Five Takeaways

  1. Jobs requiring the highest level of digital intensity were associated with higher salary increases. From 2001 to 2016, tech workers in jobs requiring the highest level of digital intensity had an average 32 percent increase in salary, while workers who were classified to be in the lowest level of digitally intensive work had a 14 percent salary increase over the same time period.
  2. Women are increasingly being excluded from tech work. In 2001, a woman had a 6.29 percent chance of being a tech worker. In 2016, this same probability decreased to 4.91 percent. Conversely, a man had a 20 percent chance of being a tech worker, a number that remains unchanged between 2001 and 2016. The gender participation gap is equivalent to (or in later years, larger than) the participation gap of tech workers who do not possess a university degree. The effects of intersectionality are just as significant. An Indigenous woman without a bachelor’s degree, for example, has only a one percent chance of entering the tech workforce.
  3. The gender pay gap persists and is compounded by intersectionality. Our research reveals that men make an average of $3.49 per hour more in pay in comparison to women. Further, having a visible minority identity (averaging across all identities) lowers one’s pay by $3.89 per hour. These associations between identity and salary are compounded, in that an immigrant woman with a visible minority identity engaging in tech work without a university degree in Canada is, on average, expected to make $8.94 per hour less than a white, non-immigrant man without a university degree. If this man also had a university degree, this gap widens to $18.50, highlighting the labour market cost of inequity in access to education.
  4. There are pay inequities amongst immigrants working in tech that did not exist before. In 2001, there was no observable pay gap between immigrant and nonimmigrant tech workers, but from 2001 to 2016, a pay gap emerged, to an average of more than $5.70 per hour (in 2016 dollars) after controlling for other observable characteristics. When we control for factors such as experience, education, and sex, the immigrant pay penalty in tech is in fact larger in magnitude than the gender pay gap.
  5. Jobs associated with routine-based tasks have decreased in digital intensity. An analysis of all 500 Canadian occupations from 2001 to 2016 shows jobs that were predominantly associated with routine work have decreased in digital intensity. Conversely, jobs characterized as requiring a high degree of cognitive skills, coupled with non-routine work, saw a marked increase in digital intensity over the studied time period.