THUNDER BAY – Over the past eight years, Thunder Bay has been shifting directions. From what former Mayor Lynn Peterson called a ‘perfect storm’ that saw the forest sector all but vanish, our community set a path forward to be a part of the growing ‘knowledge-based’ economy. That entails many things that likely few on City Council fully realize or understand completely. That is not that unusual, but it does mean that Thunder Bay, likely is missing the full opportunities that are attached to the new global economy.
Maintaining a position as a world class research centre means continual work and a constant need to realize that the traditional workplace of the past has changed in major ways.
Thunder Bay is already witnessing with the coming closures of several government offices in the city, that the Internet is changing how people can, and will access services and information.
It used to be that workers traveled by road to get to work. Increasingly today workers are ‘virtual workers’ and people are tele-commuting to their workplace. Where you are is no longer important. With the Internet one can literally be anywhere one needs to be all without leaving the city they live in.
Sure, people are still traveling to get to meetings, but that too can be reduced, and likely will. Video phone is becoming increasingly popular and usable.
There is likely to be a generation gap, not unlike what happened in the 1960s between youth and ‘those over thirty’. However today that generation gap will be between those who use technology wisely and those who treat it like an inconvenience or just another thing to bother them.
Those who will benefit the most from the smart use of technology are those who see in that technology the opportunities it presents. For the province, likely the ever evolving and improving technology presents the opportunity via smart devices and video conferencing the need to change the Municipal Act.
Members of City Councils across Ontario should now have the ability to participate in meetings electronically. Issues of importance in a community could benefit from all the members being able to be present. Using technology to do the heavy lifting, members of councils, as well as MPPs could all be able to vote from almost everywhere in the world.
There would likely need to be some changes at both the business and at the government level for Thunder Bay and all of Northwestern Ontario to fully compete at the global level. A recent survey from Randstad Canada says that other countries are way ahead of Canada in their Internet access at work for employees via smart phones. The report cites the high prices of wireless phone service in Canada as a major part of the problem.
Stacy Parker, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Randstad Canada says employers should rethink their assumptions about internet usage.“The use of email and the Internet has become an integral part of today’s workplace. They offer a great deal of benefits to corporations, such as improved communication among employees, improved customer support and research capabilities.”
Randstad Canada states, “Additionally, nearly half of all global respondents say they own a private smartphone which includes email from work, while the number of employees with a Smartphone that is provided by their employer is significantly lower. In China (84%), Hong Kong (79%), India (71%) and Malaysia (71%), smartphone ownership is much higher than average, while Belgium (26%) and Czech (25%) sit at the lower end of the spectrum”.
While there are plenty of positives to having internet access in the workplace, Parker does acknowledge that organizations have valid concerns about security risks, and employee productivity. “Many employers are concerned, for instance, that employees will waste time ‘browsing’, rather than using the Internet efficiently and productively. But it’s important for companies to harness the comfort levels their employees have with Internet-based resources,” she explains. “Failure to do so could very well lead to the loss of top talent and can open the door for competitors to gain an advantage through a better equipped and enabled workforce”.
Looking past today, and into the future, it will be critical for Thunder Bay, and for Ontario in the ever increasingly competitive global marketplace to open up to new ideas and to new ways of thinking. Not doing so could make all of the work at making our community a world-class research centre far harder to achieve and far far harder to maintain.
Chief Content Officer