With a coordinated, nation-wide net-zero strategy, Canada would see clean energy jobs grow 7% each year, adding 700,000 jobs to the sector by 2050 and creating a “pan-Canadian opportunity” for workers across provinces and industries.
But if governments fail to press ahead with key climate measures, the country will end up with 100,000 fewer energy jobs of all kinds by mid-century, according to Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research, a Vancouver-based firm that modelled various energy scenarios in Canada to learn their implications for Canadian workers and the economy.
The report finds that while 1.5-million fossil fuel jobs will be lost in a net-zero future, clean energy employment will increase by 2.2 million. Jobs in Alberta’s clean energy sector will grow 10% a year out to a net-zero 2050—the fastest of any province or territory. “Between 2025 and 2050, there would be 419,000 clean energy jobs added in the province, significantly more than the 324,000-job decline expected in fossil fuels.”
But energy sector workers remain concerned about what the transition will look like and what it means for their jobs, Matt Wayland, Canadian director of government relations at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, told a recent Clean Energy Canada webinar on the report.
“They’re proud of the work they do,” but also want to be part of the change and make sure they aren’t left behind, he added, hinting at anxiety about job prospects in Canada’s green transition.
As the country ramps up policy and action towards its 2050 net-zero emissions target, “how can we prepare to make sure that Canada and its work force take best advantage in terms of the plan for today?” asked Rachel Doran, director of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada, paraphrasing a key question addressed [pdf] by the think tank.
Stephan Pauer, Clean Energy Canada’s technology and economic analysis manager, said Canada’s economy can benefit from large investments in energy transitions abroad, especially in the United States—if it is able to adapt. With 92% of global GDP now covered by net-zero commitments, “decisions made today will shape the success of Canada’s own energy sector in the years ahead,” the report says.
In a net-zero 2050, the inflation-adjusted GDP of the clean energy sector would grow six times compared to 2025, while the GDP of fossil fuels would halve, the report found. “The result is that Canada’s clean energy sector in 2050 would be worth 63% more than Canada’s fossil fuel sector in 2025, even after inflation.”
But that prosperous picture “is not an inevitable one,” Clean Energy Canada warns. If Canada rolls back its climate action while other countries press forward, the energy sector will be weakened by falling oil demand and lose 100,000 jobs by 2050.
“The reality is that no matter what policy choices Canada makes domestically, a decarbonizing world wants more clean energy and fewer fossil fuels,” the report states. “Indeed, jobs in the oil sands and oil production are set to decline by at least 93% between 2025 and 2050, regardless of what policies are in place.”
To achieve the strongest growth for Canadians, Pauer told the panel strong policy must prepare the work force for an accelerating energy transition. Investments in new industries like electric vehicle manufacturing, batteries, sustainable mining, hydrogen, and clean electricity are crucial, as is ensuring “that no one is left behind in this energy transition.”
Skills and Training Matter
Big investments, especially in skills and training, will have a major role to play for jobs in the auto sector, said David Paterson, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs at General Motors Canada. Three years ago, when GM decided to make all new light-duty vehicles battery electric, it set the company up for “the biggest change since the auto sector left horses behind,” he said. “And all our competitors are on the same path.”
That means “a big range of jobs” moving on from a focus on mechanical and civil engineering to electrical, chemical, and software skills that come to the fore when EVs are built.
“To a degree we still make cars with many of the same components when they’re electric,” he explained, “but a lot of focus is now on safety, on batteries, and dealing with high voltage.”
So workers need training, “whether it’s a boilermaker or whether it’s people in our dealerships or building charging networks across Canada.”
All of which requires new investments and new skills for a very deep supply chain, Paterson said. “It’s going to take us a decade to get us through it, but I think at the end of the day, GM will be twice the size it was three years ago in Canada.”
The building sector will also have a big role in the transition, and will need workers for energy retrofits at homes and businesses. Government and industry leaders can help the construction sector grow and adapt by revisiting and upgrading procedures like permitting approvals, said Jen Hancock, vice-president of collaborative construction at Chandos Construction.
All in all, successfully navigating the energy transition will require a coordinated, nationwide strategy, Wayland said. For IBEW’s 775,000 members in Canada and abroad, the clean energy transition must be “worker-centred” and adopt a “tripartite approach” in which government and industry representatives are also active. He added that the work on energy transition infrastructure, especially transmission lines to connect clean energy sources, must begin now.
GM’s Paterson agreed, noting that “there’s not enough electricity, there’s not enough land, there’s not enough labour, and there’s only so much money going around for a period of time to co-invest in a lot of these things.”
Companies could appeal to investors by implementing programs that train workers for new skills, with support from government funding. The Ontario government, for instance, recently announced new funding to train automotive workers with new skills, some of it earmarked for “90 technicians and 70 jobseekers to gain the skills needed to transition and launch their careers in the EV industry.”
“That’s really encouraging,” said Patterson. “That’s really a smart way of trying to make sure this looks like a good place to invest because, if you’re putting up a battery plant, you’re going to need 4,000 workers.”
Industries are also adapting to new supply chains, with the automotive sector among others starting to expand into related operations like managing mines for access to critical minerals. Canada is already well-equipped to respond to energy sector challenges because its robust chemical and heavy industry sectors give it a competitive advantage, Paterson said.