As Canada’s oilpatch scrambles to fill 2,000+ job openings created by shifting geopolitical and economic winds, new analysis is calling on governments to ensure workers aren’t unduly disrupted by the country’s climate pledges, and that clean energy jobs are available to groups that have been shut out in the past.
While significant investments in STEM education, high tech, and soft skills are required, the Pembina Institute says the valuable skills that workers in Canada’s fossil sector hold today will be “transferrable to emerging clean-energy sectors.”
However, “alignment may not be perfect, and upskilling may be required,” Pembina adds.
And although “Canada’s net-zero transition offers an opportunity to address long-standing social equity issues in the work force and create a more equitable economy,” Pembina warns that “costs for training and reskilling have been a barrier for many marginalized groups, and newcomers may face difficulties in accessing job opportunities without policy intervention.”
An Ontario rule—exempting earnings from some but not all apprenticeship programs from public housing subsidy calculations—is one example of a policy that is holding workers back. Citing testimony from the president of Carpenters’ Union Local 27, the Toronto Star writes that the union has “repeatedly seen apprentices—who enter the trade via a targeted, 14-week pre-apprenticeship program that recruits specifically from Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) residents—suddenly quit after their first full year.”
When it investigated this retention issue, the union found that “it boils down to housing rules,” that trainees were resigning “out of fear that their earnings would push their household income above a threshold where their housing subsidy might be reduced or revoked.”
The union is currently petitioning the province for a change in the rules, a move that both Queen’s Park and the TCHC strongly support.
Stressing the need for “more certainty about Canada’s unique path to net-zero,” Pembina urges Ottawa to “chart a clear course” so that Canadians “know where we are going and how fast we are trying to get there.”
“In order to ensure Canadians and communities are not left behind, part of that planning needs to identify pathways that will result in well-paying jobs across the country,” the report adds.
A failure to provide policy and financial support for those pathways will leave the country stumbling forward on the fumes of a declining oil and gas sector, with young people and immigrants particularly vulnerable to the promise of high wages.
Reporting on the sudden rebound of Canada’s oil sector after “limping through nearly seven years of collapsing oil prices,” CBC News writes of an industry hungry for both skilled and unskilled labour, and willing to pay top dollar.
The 2,000+ job openings owe substantially to people having “moved on to more stable and secure work, albeit often lower paid,” and to their being “bombarded with messaging that says the oil and gas industry is harmful, and fading in relevance, as the world transitions to greener and cleaner sources of energy,” writes CBC.
Hoping to overcome skittishness over sector volatility and climate impacts, the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors (CAOEC) recently boosted its recommended benchmark minimum wage for land drillers and service rig contractors between 10 and 20%.
It is also looking to hire from “non-traditional” labour pools. “Whether it’s the South Asian community, the Filipino community, Latin community, we’re using different languages to attract people back into this industry and educating them and pushing out the message that there are jobs to be had,” said Gurpreet Lail, president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC). “There is a future in this industry.”
The Alberta government is also looking at easing the rules against temporary foreign workers in the sector. CAOEC president Mark Scholz said that change “might be another alternative that the industry might have to pursue” to maintain its current status of activity.