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The Eco Future


BCBusiness ECO Canada

Credit: ECO Canada

From recession to recovery, green jobs are Canada’s greatest opportunity.

Amidst an ever-evolving labour landscape, climate change challenges and a global pandemic, economies are seeing profound and seismic shifts towards green technologies and renewable energies for a more sustainable future. But this, especially within Canada’s environmental workforce, requires a specific set of skills for success.

Kevin Nilsen is President and CEO of ECO Canada, the organization working with industry, government and academia to build a strong environmental workforce in Canada. Here, he discusses the opportunity we have to be a global leader in this space.

British Columbia, ripe with vast lands and situated right beside the Pacific Ocean, offers a substantial economic opportunity for Canada. It has been leading the charge with initiatives and job opportunities geared toward a greener future and a stronger, more skilled environmental workforce. In fact, provinces across the country are showing Canada and the world just how committed they are to shortening the road towards a more sustainable way of living. 

And while COVID-19 has drastically changed how businesses operate and significantly impacted economies around the globe, there are certain opportunities for countries and their economies to bounce back. For Canada, the environmental sector and its workers are key to our recovery.

“Though the COVID crisis has taken its toll, the environmental labour market is still growing,” says Kevin Nilsen, ECO Canada’s President and CEO.

In late 2020, ECO Canada released two Labour Market Outlook Reports delving into the opportunities that lie within the environmental labour market, and the gaps that need to be addressed—one key finding showed the environmental workforce set to grow by 8% by 2029, despite the pandemic. Over the next 10 years, higher job growth rates are expected in sustainable transportation, cleantech, nature conservation, water quality, green building, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Take BC for example, which is currently the fourth largest provincial employer of environmental workers in Canada, making up 15% of Canada’s green workforce. By 2029, provincial employers will need to fill 35,900 net environmental job openings due to 7,600 new jobs and 28,300 retiring workers.

About one in 30 workers in Canada (620,100) was in a green job in 2019, with environmental workers present in every Canadian region and practically every occupation. Workers come from all sectors, including conservation officers, biologists, hydro managers, geologists, equipment operators, engineers and general labourers.

While this level of job creation is encouraging, it has also left many concerned with an impending skill shortage with close to 30% of the current workforce poised to retire within the next decade.This retirement high is predicted to see nearly 75% of net environmental job openings to be in roles related to management, business, finance and administration.

As it now stands, candidates qualified to work in environmental occupations are projected to be in short supply through to 2029, particularly in management occupations or those requiring a university or post-secondary education.

Nilsen says this means it is more important than ever to develop training solutions and career resources to ensure qualified workers are available to both support the sector’s growth and build the world’s leading green workforce.

“We know we’ve got a competent workforce capable of innovative thinking but are they revenue hungry?” says Nilsen. “Do they know how to sell and market a product? That’s what we need to work on. Recruiting new talent and training existing workers to understand the journey from research and idea generation to a profitable product, ready for commercialization in the global market—that’s the task at hand.

“Employers have been telling us that recent graduates are missing some essential skills, such as project management and financial acumen and therefore need additional skills training. We are working with them to develop plans and hands-on studies to broaden the skillsets of those in the environmental workforce.”

While there is work to be done in deepening the country’s environmental workforce, provinces like British Columbia are showcasing why this opportunity is so substantial for Canada. With tremendous access to low-carbon natural resources such as hydro, wind, forestry, geothermal, biomass, solar and water, the possibilities are endless. The Site C dam and hydroelectric generating station will be a significant source of electricity for British Columbians, while the province’s CleanBC program is promoting the widespread use of clean and renewable energy.

This is evidence enough that there are innovative initiatives cropping up all across Canada, but developments like this will require further research and development, as well as collaboration with various levels of government to further unearth innovations and technological advancements to meet the environmental demands of the next decade. This is exactly why Canada needs skilled people who are trained and ready to continue this work well into the future.

“We are working hard to influence government funding and investors to ensure Canadian innovations are capitalized on here,” Nilsen says. “With the talent, educational facilities, government support and major resource-related projects across the country, we have genuine potential to become industry leaders.”

Although the pandemic has exacerbated concerns for governments and economies, the opportunity to make a green shift towards environmental and renewable mindsets is a net-positive as Canada begins its journey to net-zero. Nilsen concludes: “It’s now up to employers, policy makers, academia and our workforce to stay focused on furthering the environmental economy as our recovery takes hold.”

For more information, please visit www.eco.ca

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Created by BCBusiness in partnership with ECO Canada