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Harry Rakowski: Thinking fast, thinking slow, and thinking not at all

Commentary

Some decisions that we make in life are intuitive and others carefully reasoned. Even when we think a decision is simply reflexive, there is usually a great deal of experience that guides what is seemingly a rapid and easy call. After more than 40 years of experience as a cardiologist, I have developed honed instincts for what seems minor and what raises a red flag that triggers the need for high-level investigation to exclude serious illness. I don’t think I am wrong very often in following my medical instincts, but this may not be true for many other decisions that seem obvious but are not. There are many times that I have misjudged people by first impressions or let bias unintentionally cloud my judgement. I’m sure I am not alone.

Thinking Fast and Slow is a book by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate in behavioural economics. My wife loved it and suggested that I read it as well. It describes the paths we take to make decisions and how biases in judgement sometimes lead us to bad decisions. These biases cause us to ignore relevant cues and important data, or evaluate the information we have against the wrong comparison group. This can lead to inaccurately weighing the evidence needed to make the best decision.

I was recently asked to guess the percentage of all workers who worked virtually rather than in person during the pandemic. I guessed 70 percent and a recent group of friends estimated a range of 60-90 percent. The correct answer was 30 percent. We were biased by our association with white-collar workers and professionals who mainly worked virtually as opposed to other essential workers who had to personally interact with others to perform their job.

If asked whether a lean, shy, and well-read man is more likely to be a librarian or a construction worker, the obvious choice is a librarian as he fits the stereotype. However, given that there are many more male construction workers than librarians, he is much more likely to be a shy, well-read construction worker.

Government leaders often make painfully slow decisions that should be made quickly. Conversely, those that require careful, thoughtful consideration are made far too quickly. Decisions are often guided by political expediency rather than data. The lack of rapid distribution of booster shots to vulnerable seniors at a time when we have excess vaccine supply, even wasting large numbers of doses that expire, is a sad example of ponderous inaction. The B.C. government has now made the right decision to offer boosters to older and vulnerable people, with a timeline for offering it to others with likely waning immunity. It is time for Ontario, supported by the federal government, to do the same.

The reflexive decision to change the name of Dundas street in Toronto without fully understanding the financial cost and unintended consequences of an overly exuberant cancel culture would benefit from slow thinking. Elsewhere, the New York Times recently detailed the reversal of decisions by many cities to defund or slash police budgets, which were rashly made in response to protests over the police killing of George Floyd. The result, as many expected, was a rise in violent crime and the ensuing political pressure from diverse groups to reverse the exodus of many police officers from the force. Increased funding of a better-trained police force was the thoughtful consensus of bipartisan stakeholders made in order to improve public safety. This occurred in many cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and even Burlington, Vermont, a city that Bernie Sanders once led as mayor.

The frequent repetition of disinformation on social media plays into this bias. It promotes the unwillingness to consider other reasonable but alternative explanations. The revelations about the failings of social media giants such as Facebook to correctly identify and limit disinformation demonstrates how it can inflame hatred and even inspire some to insurrection.

Kahneman asserts that many people make assumptions based on the limited information they have that confirms their biases rather than seeking information they don’t yet know but which could change their minds. Many will read this as an exhortation for the other side (whoever that may be). It is not. Fundamentally, the responsibility lies with each of us to first enact these principles of fair and careful consideration in the practice of our own lives.

What is missing in so much of our discourse today is the ability to pause, think slowly, and truly listen to those whose views we may reflexively disagree with. Reaching some kind of consensus, however small, is not as viscerally satisfying in the moment as outright opposition of our enemies, but it is integral to the well-functioning society we all claim to want in the long term. Just taking the time to consider what facts you yourself may be missing, and how that missing context can alter your too-fast judgement, will lessen the polarization of opinion and action that is so corrosive.

As our lives slowly return to normal after the physical and emotional restrictions imposed by this pandemic, we as individuals have to understand how to better think fast and slow. We can think quickly when we have extensive and diverse experience. We need to act slowly when issues are complex and not seek simplicity by viewing the solutions through a myopic lens of bias and inadequate information.

We have witnessed the swearing-in of a new federal government with a shuffled cabinet. Will they be better prepared to act quickly after making thoughtful fact-based decisions to confront our many challenges? I hope they do, but fear that they have neither the intellectual bandwidth nor the political courage to make the obvious choices quickly and the harder ones with consensus, ethics, and based on data rather than expediency.

Labour Market Insights: Work from home and Ontario’s Labour Market Trends for October 2021

Commentary

As the employment landscape continues to evolve due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re taking a look this month at work from home jobs, as well as what occupations are in-demand, which employers are hiring, and the skills that employers are looking for in Ontario. The analysis draws from Workforce WindsorEssex’s unique data source which covers job postings from across the province (excluding the City of Toronto and the far north-eastern region).

According to data collected from unique job postings in Ontario the month of October, 1.93 percent of job postings included either a full-time or hybrid work from home option based on employers listing “work from home” in their postings (3,583 out of 184,840 total active job postings), spanning a total of 227 different occupations. While 1.93 percent may seem low, especially when 4.2 million Canadians worked from home in October 2021, it’s important to note that these are incremental, new jobs, not the percent of workers employed in a full-time or hybrid work from home model. Active job postings are defined as those postings that were accepting applications in the month of October.

The 10 most in-demand work from home occupations compared to the 10 most in-demand jobs overall by number of active job postings were as follows:

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

Based on the types of occupations listed as the 10 most in-demand work from home jobs, we can assume that a large portion of these jobs might eventually be transitioned to an office environment, spanning customer service, administration, insurance, marketing, computer programming, and human resources.

The top-10 companies hiring work from home employees were as follows:

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

In terms of the knowledge, skills, tools, and technologies that employers are looking for in their work from home employees, 3,392 unique skills were identified throughout the 3,665 active work from home job postings. In comparison, there were 9,825 unique knowledge, skills, tools, and technologies identified overall in the 184,840 total active job postings across Ontario. The top-20 knowledge, skills, tools, and technologies identified in active work from home job postings versus identified in overall active job postings for October 2021 were as follows:

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

The lists of knowledge, skills, tools, and technologies do not differ greatly; however, we do see writing and research more sought after in work from home positions. There is also an emphasis on communication and attention to detail.

We also found that an increasing number of employers mention “vaccination” in their job postings. Approximately 16,000 active job postings (8.65 percent of all active job postings) included the term.

Getting back to overall job postings, the 10 most in-demand occupations in October 2021 compared to the previous month were as follows:

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

Together, these top-10 in-demand occupations constitute just over one-third of all job postings (63,091 job postings or 34.13 percent) in the regions. The number of active job postings increased by 10,459 in October relative to September for a total of 184,840, compared to 174,463 active job postings in September).

Certain occupations experienced a large bump in the number of active job postings for October, with Material Handlers seeing an increase of 3,395 (up 28.45 percent) in postings. Material Handlers are largely employed in the Transportation and Warehousing sector and move, load, and unload materials by hand or using a variety of material handling equipment.

The top-10 companies hiring were as follows:

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

Many in the top-10 companies hiring in the month of October are hiring Material Handlers, particularly as the holiday months are quickly approaching and these employers anticipate an earlier busy season due to widely-reported supply chain issues. We can see Amazon, Walmart Canada, and Home Depot in particular have increased their hiring efforts in October. This follows the ongoing trend of employers ramping up hiring for this capacity in the month of October. In Statistics Canada’s data for employment according to industry, 377,000 are employed in the Transportation and Warehousing sector in October 2021, up 8.77 percent from 346,600 in October 2020 and down 4.69 percent from 394,700 in October 2019.

For more information about Workforce WindsorEssex and their valuable LMI, please visit workforcewindsoressex.com.