While projections show that the transition to a green economy could affect nearly a quarter of all jobs in Canada, experts say supportive policies and retraining can help workers develop new skills and adapt to new sectors.
“While it may seem daunting, preparing Canadian workers is manageable. Companies are beginning to identify a variety of needs, ranging from skills around research and development to skills related to implementing new practices in manufacturing, installation, and maintenance,” write Mike Moffatt of the Smart Prosperity Institute (SPI) and Samir Khan of the Toronto-based Future Skills Centre.
SPI modelling reveals that workers don’t have the skills needed for the next stage of the transition to a green economy aligned with Canada’s 2050 net-zero target. That shift will involve “moving away from oil and gas production to manufacturing, construction, clean energy, transportation, and other sectors where technology or processes are changing,” write Moffatt and Khan.
Of the quarter of all Canadian jobs that will be affected by the transition, most are in communities and sectors dependent on carbon-intensive economic activity like mining and quarrying, oil and gas extraction, and emissions-intensive manufacturing, finds SPI. Some workers will struggle to switch to new jobs because of constrained geographic mobility or the availability and cost of training.
“If unaddressed, these skills gaps pose serious risks to Canada’s ability to meet its commitments and to reap the rewards that the transition will bring,” Moffatt and Kahn write.
Policies to support skills development—with broad support for labour market transitions and mobility—are critical to driving green economy growth without hurting the Canadian work force or creating bottlenecks that can slow economic growth and development, they add.
The two authors call for specific policies to support marginalized populations that are over-represented in transition-vulnerable sectors like oil production and mining. While this can be partly addressed with a greater focus on equity during education and skills development, “it will also be crucial to combat other systemic barriers of discrimination,” say Moffatt and Khan. “These patterns will replicate in the economy of the future if not addressed now.”
They recommend training that extends beyond technical needs to also foster fundamental skills like problem-solving, lifelong learning, and resilience. Better communication with workers about emerging roles and necessary skills will also help make the reality of the job market transition more tangible.
Policies like employment insurance and firm-level subsidies for wages and training will need to be tailored to support employment that contributes to decarbonization, they add. And researchers will need to study disparate regional and community-level economic realities to inform decision-makers on how to move forward in this period of change.