Green jobs blooming in skilled trades: Wind farms and retrofits spell work opportunity

So-called "green jobs" are growing at more than twice the rate of traditional jobs in Canada--9.1 per cent over the last decade compared with the average of 3.7 per cent--but it's the skilled trades that could stand to reap some of the biggest gains as new green initiatives in sustainable energy and construction get underway across North America.

When U.S. President Barack Obama earmarked $98 billion as part of the economic stimulus package for environmental and sustainable energy projects, it gave an important boost for the emerging field, a trend that has been slowly gaining steam in Canada in the past 10 years.

"I don't think there's any doubt that companies are certainly looking at green jobs as a mechanism to increase sales, increase share price . . . and we now need to get some good definition of what these green jobs are," says Grant Trump, president of the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada (ECO).

Careers in science and engineering will be one focus area of these green jobs as new technologies and processes are developed, but the skilled trades will also play an important role and provide new career opportunities for trades workers.

Green energy and construction projects will open up new careers in manufacturing, construction, operation and maintenance of projects such as wind turbine farms, building retrofits, solar panel installation and transit-line building, for example.

"It definitely increases the job prospects for people in the skilled trades because a lot of the skills they're acquiring in the current process of apprenticeship programs . . . are definitely transferable to some of the things that are on the horizon," says Shaun Thorson, executive director of Skills Canada.

Mechanical CAD designers, fabrication workers, sheet metal workers and construction trades are all among jobs that will be affected by the trend toward green and sustainable projects in a variety of sectors, he says.

"It's important for people to start to think about the skills they have and how those skills are applied to occupations they might not have considered before," says Thorson.

Many wind farm projects, according to Skills Canada, have been stymied because of a lack of qualified people to construct towers and service the turbines. Existing homes are being retrofitted to become more efficient and some are even installing solar panels or cogeneration systems to sell power back into the grid.

Skilled trade workers have a role to play in all of these examples, requiring Red Seal journeymen in about 50 trades to keep up to date with emerging technology.

There are about 8,000 parts that go into the production of a wind turbine tower, for example, and trades workers and manufacturers need to be on top of the latest processes used in various green initiatives, says Thorson.

How a job gets classified as a "green job" is still something that's very much up for debate, however.

On Sept. 1, the first day of the WorldSkills Calgary 2009 competition, ECO will be hosting international delegates from organizations similar to ECO from around the world to discuss how to define a green job and how they fit into the real job market.

The WorldSkills competition will also be a good opportunity for young people to think not only about a career in the skilled trades, but how the environment could play a greater role in where they end up working if they decide to pursue a career in the trades.

In 2008, there were 530,000 jobs in Canada related to the environment, a number that is predicted to grow by 8.8 per cent in the next five years, according to ECO data.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of Canada issued a joint report this year called, Green Jobs: It's Time to Build Alberta's Future, which showed the trend toward developing more sustainable energy sources could provide jobs for electricians, computer and electrical engineers, iron and steel workers, welders, construction workers and sheet metal workers.

The green movement is certainly landing on the radar screen of more and more executives.

"We certainly know that on the health and safety side, and environmental considerations, that for industry in general this is at the top of their priority list," says Trump.

Calgary Herald, Mon Aug 31 2009
Byline: Derek Sankey

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