Looking into the future

No one has a crystal ball that can predict definitively what the future will look like but there is a fair amount of forecasting that can be done that is based on demography. We know that the birthrate can help planners understand what the demand for schools and teachers will be in the future. It’s really a matter of math plus factoring in aging infrastructure that can help determine just how many schools will need to be built or phased out in the future.

Demographic projections are fairly reliable, especially with respect to population growth and make up. For example, we know that birth rate factored with death rate tells us a lot abot natural growth of an existing population. Factor in immigration policy and historic patterns of in- or out-migration with respect to a community and you can do a pretty good job of seeing the future, at least within the context of scenarios.

The data is there. One has to wonder if anyone is actually looking at it and casting out long term for the implications with respect to the economy, services to people, and how things will shift as the population grows and changes in terms of characteristics.

Stats Can has done some projections to 2031 and they are rather telling in terms of what the make up of Canada will be 20 years out. We know that is the year when the last wave of returing boomers will take effect. Given that Generation Y is a smaller population and the birth rate will be quite low for years to come, the workforce will be shrinking. We also know that our population growth will behighly dependent on international immigration.Unless policy changes dramatically we will see between 200,000 and 275,000 international immigrants coming to Canada each year for the next 20 years.

This will increase the multicultural flavor of our society, impact demands for services, and influence the nature of civic involvement, given the differences among cultures and how they see the expression of citizenship. Based on Stats Can info, I estimate between 350,000 and 400,000 new immigrants will make their home in Alberta in the next 20 years – most of these in our two major cities.

Add to this increasing life-expectancy that will see the average age of Canadians well into the 80s, with the typical three or four year spread between men and women, and the implications for our health care system and social supports are considerable, if not mind boggling. It is a double edged sword. The advances in health care result in people living longer who in turn tax the health care system, increasing costs dramatically.

As the age pyramid to the right indicates, as the swell of boomers rises to the top, we can see that current population trends do not result in a replenishment of the workforce at the same rate as those who are retiring. What will be the impact on the tax base when in 2031 when we could see 1 in 5 people being 65 or over? How will a shrinking workforce and also generational differences (Generation Y are quite different around the values and expectations regarding work than Boomers) and the increasing diversity in the workplace end up impacting our economy? It seems apparent that competition for skilled workers will escalate, tax revenues will be challenged, and public policy will have to transition to reflect a changing landscape.

For nonprofits who rely on corporate and invidual giving, the implications are significant and serious. Boomers tend to provide larger donations than younger people. Generaton Y is more inclined to scrutinize their giving and often wants a lot more say about how its money is spent than the Boomers do. Will corporations’ CSR initiatives become more connected to employee wishes than they have been in the past as employers tie CSR to recruitment and retaining strategies? Will cultural differences impact our traditional views of volunteerism or what I call active citizenship.?

Philanthropy is in large part a reflection of social make up, values, and how individuals view community and practice their “giving” to the common good.

For Alberta, these demographic and pyschographic factors will also need to be viewed in light of a changing economy. Twenty years out will Alberta still benefit from oil and gas as it has historically? Will other industries emerge and as they do how will they view the role of business in community?

The days of planning three to five years at a time are over. The long view is required now more than ever to ready our society and its three sectors for a Canada and an Alberta that will look, feel, and behave quite differently from today.

Annual plans and budgets that are not based on a long view will be more like shots in the dark, driven by short term reactions to immediate circumstances created through the lens of old thinking and out of date understanding of just what is going on – not to mention politics whose expression is not always as community minded as much as it is about what needs to be done to win the next election.

Stay tuned as we write more about the future to come and what questions will emerge over time that must be addressed to ensure we are ready for the future or even more important are not just reacting to it but in fact creating it together – government, business, and non profits.

Mark Holmgren

Age Pyramid – source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada\

This article was also posted on the NPVS Alberta blog

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