June 21, 2023

SEVENTY-FIVE PER CENT of tradespeople are nervous about what the future holds when it comes to finding jobs in clean energy, according to a 2021 survey from Abacus Data. But should they be?

“Building a sustainable economy means not only recognizing and acting on the urgency of climate change, but addressing workers’ needs,” said Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU).

“Working together, we have the opportunity to ensure the federal government takes steps to support workers. To minimize the negative impacts of the transition to net zero on workers, communities and our economy, thoughtful planning and government supports are incredibly important. That’s why CBTU has been actively engaged with the government on this file.”

For example, in the federal government’s 2022 Fall Economic Statement, there were notable investments including a $250-million commitment to Employment and Social Development Canada to support workers affected by the transition over the next five years, a new sustainable job stream under the Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP) and the creation of a Sustainable Jobs Centre and Secretariat.

The Abacus survey also found 76 per cent of workers are concerned jobs in the renewable sector will not pay as well as jobs in oil and gas. They’re not wrong. According to the United States Bureau of Labor, the median annual wage for a solar photovoltaic installer in 2019 was $44,890 US while the median annual wage for a wind turbine service technician was $52,910 US. In contrast, jobs in the fossil fuel power sector paid between $70,310 US and $81,460 US.

“The oil and gas sector generally pays higher wages and has higher rates of unionization than comparable jobs in the green energy sector,” said Strickland. “So, as Canada transitions to newer technologies, we want to ensure the jobs created by those opportunities offer benefits and family-sustaining wages that will help — not hurt — Canadians.”

The federal government also opened consultations on clean hydrogen and labour conditions for clean technology investment tax credits, credits that were introduced to compete with incentives being offered in the United States through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Recommendations include redefining prevailing wage to be determined by using the highest average wage package, which includes benefits, in each province. The tax credits also need to be strengthened to remain competitive with the United States’ tax credits which are increased by five times when prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements are met.

New technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs) have the capacity to provide clean energy for large industrial projects. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories estimates Canada’s SMRs market will be valued at $5.3 billion between 2025 and 2040. Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) has promising uses in Canada’s industrial sector — namely collecting carbon dioxide produced at large, industrial facilities and storing it permanently deep underground in geological rock formations — something B.C. is well suited for.

In many ways, B.C. has always led the way on green, progressive policies. But there’s still work to be done. As the 2021 heat dome showed, B.C. buildings need to be retrofitted to hold up against a changing climate. Skilled trades jobs in heating and insulation will help to cut emissions and existing community benefit agreements guarantee new large-scale construction projects — including those in green energy — will hire a certain portion of their workforce from local communities as well as help to grow and diversify the skilled trades workforce.

“As we anticipate the federal government will unveil sustainable jobs legislation this spring,” said Strickland. “We will do everything we can to ensure this time Canada gets it right. And that workers don’t need to be nervous about their future.”

By Kate Walsh
Contributed by Canada’s Building Trades Unions