Educating the Next Generation of Green Workers

Cleantech jobs aren’t just in solar, wind, and renewables—waste management is big too
clean technology education jobs workers
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Over the next 20 years, the world is expected to go through a massive disruption: some experts say that fossil fuels like coal and oil will peak and decline, while renewable power like solar and wind is on pace to become the preeminent source of energy. That disruption touches many industries. Canada’s clean technology sector is growing at four times the rate of the overall economy, according to Ottawa-based Analytica Advisors, which monitors the country’s cleantech industry. And if job creation in the nascent sector continues at a rate of roughly 8 percent annually—exceeding those of forestry and logging, pharmaceutical and aerospace—100,000 people could be directly employed in cleantech positions by 2022.


Interestingly, one out of every five people working in cleantech is aged 30 and under—a number that’s poised to increase, especially after the Canadian government announced in December that it’s investing more than $16 million in green jobs for workers aged 15 to 30. And the new crop of so-called green jobs include areas you may not typically associate with cleantech—like waste management.

With this in mind, the country’s colleges and institutions are now readying the next generation of green-collar workers for a low-carbon economy. “There’s no doubt that we’re seeing an important shift towards a greener economy,” says Denise Amyot, the president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), which represents public colleges, institutes, polytechnics, and CEGEPs. “Industries across the country have already seen a lot of change and adopted new practices to consider sustainability in their professions and trades.”

A green degree

CICan members already offer more than 350 programs focused on sustainability and clean energy—things like solar, wind, geothermal and other energy-efficient technologies. For example, Alberta’s Lethbridge College offers wind turbine technician training to displaced oil workers, among others, in the province. British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT)—together with BC Hydro—involved students in the design and construction of Canada’s first Smart Power Microgrid at its Burnaby, BC campus.


CICan also launched its Clean Tech Internships program, which matches college students with cleantech employers with financial help from the federal government. Since it began in 2015, more than 530 recent graduates have been placed in internships designed to help them transition to long-term employment or pursue advanced studies.

Expanding definition of clean tech

Today, 84 percent of Canadians ages 18 to 34 agree that climate change poses a serious, or very serious threat to the planet, compared to 63 per cent of Canadians ages 35 to 54. Views about what constitutes a cleantech career are evolving, too. Amyot points out that cleantech isn’t limited to renewable energy, as it “cuts across multiple industries.” Sustainability means green industrial and agricultural processes, the protection and restoration of ecosystems, not to mention recycling, composting and waste reduction.

So for millennials, like 22-year-old Tim Grandjean, pursuing a green education and career seems like the right thing to do, for both personal and financial reasons. Grandjean studied energy systems engineering technology at Charlottetown’s Holland College before joining the Nanaimo, BC-based Shift Energy Group in March 2017. The electrical contractor focuses on low-carbon technologies, helping communities and businesses with the design, installation and maintenance of solar panels, LED lighting systems and electronic vehicle (EV) charging stations.


“Although I can’t say I had a passion for [cleantech] before the first day of school, my passion for it has grown ever since, especially through my day-to-day job,” says Grandjean, who is now an advisor, solar designer and project coordinator at Shift. “Who doesn’t want to be a part of an industry that’s growing so quickly? And with climate change being one of the most important issues facing humanity today, it won’t stop growing anytime soon.”

He admits to a certain fascination with delivering renewable energy projects to “super remote areas” like Haida Gwaii, just off the northwestern coast of British Columbia. “This is an important achievement for me, professionally, but it’s also important for [the generation coming up] to gain exposure to this kind of sustainability early in life.”

Career options

After graduating from Georgian College’s Environmental Technology program in August of 2017, Shaun Wakefield moved to Orillia, Ontario to fill a position in the waste management sector. The 28-year-old serves as a waste auditor for Peel Region, helping to identify the materials residents are disposing of in their recycling, organics and garbage containers, as well as ensuring that waste collection and processing contracts are upheld by one of the largest recycling companies in North America. He’s also a member of the City of Orillia’s Waste Management Advisory Committee.

“[Waste management] just seemed to click with me … and it seemed like the best possible place to start a career in the environmental field,” says Wakefield by email. Wakefield says that “the ability to mimic nature and repurpose our waste back into useable materials and products is an amazing technological advancement … Recent developments, alongside growing public awareness and changes in governmental laws and regulations, made me see that the archaic waste management industry is on the cusp of being thrust headfirst into the 21st Century, with young minds at the forefront.”


Green shift

Schools are setting an example in how they run their operations, too, including being energy efficient and reducing their own environmental footprints, according to CICan. The majority signed CICan’s green protocol back in 2004, pledging to “support sustainable development within their organization at different levels.” In recent years, Georgian College has looked into using alternative energy sources, while Ottawa’s Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology put in a high-efficiency co-generation power plant.

But the greening of campuses goes beyond “low-hanging fruit,” and by that Amyot means “the modelling of good practices” when it comes to conserving and reducing energy and water usage.

There are more than 100 college-based research centres across Canada supporting the natural resources and cleantech sectors, which are the largest areas of focus—after advanced manufacturing—when it comes to applied research.

“These community hubs for innovation are certainly contributing to solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support environmental sustainability,” she says. “They’re also going to help create and advance [environmental] policy in many sectors of the Canadian economy.”

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