Opinion: Canada needs a plan for a green skills revolution


Steel coils are visible at Algoma Steel’s direct strip production complex in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in 2018. The company is hiring and retraining workers to refurbish its plant so it can rely on clean hydropower to cut emissions by 70%.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

John Stackhouse is Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO, at RBC. Pedro Barata is Managing Director of the Future Skills Centre.

Canada will need to mobilize tens of billions of dollars a year if we have any chance of achieving net zero carbon emissions. The financial capital seems to be there. Human capital, less.

Coming out of the pandemic, a global energy transition is being shaped by countries developing the right mix of green skills in engineering, skilled trades, management and other professions. Ironically, after setting a policy norm with carbon pricing, emissions regulations and clean technology incentives, Canada may lack the skills we will need to implement these policies.

To get the most out of our net zero strategy, we will need to do more with post-secondary education, retraining and immigration. A new study from RBC Economics and Thought Leadership estimates that more than three million jobs – or 15% of the current workforce – are poised to undergo a green skills transformation as employers and entrepreneurs seize the energy transition. According to RBC’s Green Collar Jobs: The Skills Revolution Canada Needs to Achieve Net Zero Emissions, 400,000 new high-skilled jobs will be needed to redesign and rewire the economy.

Architects will need a better idea of ​​environmental footprints. Logistics managers will have to find a balance between efficiency and emissions. Accountants will have to count climate costs with financial costs. And in engineering, architecture, utilities and manufacturing, managers will see at least half of their jobs shift because of the energy transition.

This is already done in Canada. Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie recruits and retrains workers to refurbish her plant so she can rely on clean hydropower to reduce emissions by 70%. In Oakville, Ontario, Samuel Son & Co. teaches new graduates how to make materials for a low-carbon future, for electric vehicles and 3D printing. These employers know that investing in green skills will help them overcome shortages of skilled tradespeople and environmental workers. and stay ahead of the future.

The same approach can support people whose jobs are disrupted by transition with retraining opportunities. Indeed, with sufficient retraining, pathways into “clean economy” occupations will open up for workers in high-risk, low-risk jobs, according to a Conference Board of Canada report funded by the Future Skills Centre. mobility.

To do this, we will need to accelerate changes in retraining and lifelong learning, which the pandemic has shown are unprepared for a disruptive future. And we will have to take seriously how we recognize international credentials.

Fortunately, Canada has a number of advantages, including colleges and universities, as well as an immigration system, which are admired around the world. We can start by collaborating, with governments, businesses, educational institutions, professional associations and labor groups that play a role in the green-collar revolution.

We need to ensure we have the right compass to steer our workforce towards the dynamic and comprehensive changes required by going green. The federal government and its partners need to collect and analyze data to inform labor market policies and assess the changing workforce in a rapidly changing economy.

Businesses also need to step up their efforts in embracing green skills as an essential part of their net zero strategies. Work-integrated learning and on-the-job training will become even more important, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs who account for nearly 90% of private sector jobs.

Colleges, universities and other institutions must also look beyond traditional disciplines and create new approaches to education for a net zero era. Stanford University and Columbia University have established Climate Schools to bring together different disciplines to forge new avenues of research and better prepare a new generation for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Labor organizations also have a key role to play through new commitments to lifelong learning programmes, supported by efforts to ensure training and skills programs are responsive, timely and widely available. One example is the EDGE UP project, which helps mid-career workers displaced from Alberta’s oil and gas industry transition into jobs in the booming information technology sector.

Canadians know that we face a historic challenge to make this shift. But by putting skills at the center of our climate strategy, we can ensure that our transition is designed, built and delivered by Canadians, for Canadians.

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