Green jobs blooming in skilled trades

Colleges are helping the province move toward a sustainable economy by training graduates for “green collar jobs,” while electrical unions and other skilled trades involved in alternative energy are providing training needed to meet the needs of this evolving industry.

According to a recently released Colleges Ontario report, colleges are also helping companies develop “made-in-Ontario” solutions to green challenges. An energy audit and conservation program developed by Canadore College in partnership with North Bay Hydro is one of numerous examples included in the report called Colleges Driving a Sustainable Future: New Careers for a Clean Economy.

Over the past three years, 35 new diploma or certificate programs related to the sustainable economy have been introduced across Ontario. These new programs help produce employees ready for innovations in everything from green business management to alternative energy engineering technology.

“We’ve been able to help the province kick-start the kind of training (needed to meet the needs of a green economy) because we can turn curriculum around quickly and develop programs quickly,” says Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario.

As a result, colleges are unveiling a host of new diploma programs that prepare grads to work in such positions as wind turbine technicians. “At the same time, students and faculty are working in applied research — helping companies build their own sustainable platforms,” Franklin says.

Students are “flocking” to the new and revamped programs and may even be responsible for the increase in college enrolment.

“This generation is so focused on those interests,” Franklin says. “A lot don’t know exactly where their career is going to lead them but want to make a difference in some profound way.”

Green energy act propels union training

Meanwhile, trades unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Construction Council of Ontario also recognize the opportunities created at least in part by the province’s Green Energy Act. It’s expected to spark growth in clean and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass and biogas.

The IBEW council launched solar photovoltaics (PV) training in February adopted from its sister organization south of the border.

“We adapted it to meet Ontario codes and standards and the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program,” spokesperson Peter Olders says. (The FIT program allows individuals and companies to sell renewable energy into the grid at set rates.)

IBEW’s solar PV training is delivered by 13 registered training centres across the province. “It’s very popular and is delivered evenings and weekends to make it most convenient for students,” Olders says. More than 600 members have completed the training to date.

Appropriate training is key to ensuring that emerging, renewable sources of electricity can be supported with qualified workers, says Angela Splinter, the Electricity Sector Council’s (ESC) director of projects and development.

Labour Shrortages :

According to 2009 ESC workforce research, 41% of Canadian solar industry companies were experiencing labour shortages, primarily in installation and followed by systems design and integration, sales, project management and engineering.

“These shortages are expected to become more severe over the next few years,” says ESC’s executive director Michelle Branigan.

Green energy jobs will require skilled workers in many areas, from solar PV installers and the millwrights required to build and maintain wind turbines, to electricians and technicians needed to manage smart grid technologies.

“In some occupations, the required skills may be a combination of both new and existing skill sets,” Branigan says.

She points to electricians as an example. “Their skills cross over various other task areas in geoexchange and solar … In the province of Ontario, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is reviewing regulations to determine what tasks are required to be performed by qualified electricians in the installation of solar PV panels.”

Geoexchange certification

The geoexchange industry is at an interesting crossroads — providing those who’ve worked in the industry for decades with the skills needed to meet the industry’s evolving needs while also preparing the next generation, notes Denis Tanguay, Canadian GeoExchange (CGC) president and CEO.

(The term “geoexchange” describes an alternative to traditional oil- gas- or coal-fired heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The idea is to take advantage of the ground’s heating and cooling properties to heat or cool entire buildings using standard pump and compressor technology.)

CGC has been transferring its training courses to colleges and institutes of technology across Canada. Once those training standards have been incorporated into their curriculum, CGC fully recognizes the students trained by those institutions as industry-equivalent and facilitates their integration into the geoexchange industry.

CGC training is now available at 16 post-secondary institutions across the country, including seven in Ontario. Cambrian College in Sudbury was the first, integrating the CGC installers’ course and residential designers’ course into its three-year energy systems technology program.

“Normally, you rely on training institutions to educate your workforce but with new industry it’s the other way around — the knowledge lies within the industry and you need to transfer it to the colleges,” Tanguay says.

“Now the industry is strongly growing in Canada.”

Green Skills Training

Colleges have been working with employers to modify curriculum for existing occupations and develop curriculum for new occupations in a bid to ensure students are at the forefront of green skills training. This fall, 14 new programs related to the sustainable economy were launched, including:

• Green architecture

• Wind turbine technician

• Green business management

• Renewable energies technician

• Sustainable energy and building technician

• Alternative energy engineering technology

• Ecosystems survey

• Water distribution and wastewater collection

• Geothermal engineering technician

Learn more at

Need to know more?

Electricity Sector Council (ESC)

Canadian GeoExchange Coalition

Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA)