- Climate change is the main megatrend shaping Canada’s electricity sector in terms of its goals, innovations, and workforce.
- Workers looking to be innovative and make a social impact should consider the electricity sector, where they can help work towards Canada’s decarbonization goals.
- A policy framework from the government around decarbonization can help the industry recruit more talent and develop the right innovation.
As mitigating climate change and decarbonization continue to be a priority, big changes will come in the technologies used in the electricity industry. The government needs to put more funding into upskilling workers in this sector so that their skill sets complement these new technologies.
What are the main forces shaping Canada’s electricity sector today, and how prepared are we to deal with them?
The primary area is climate change. If you look at what that does to the electricity sector and virtually every other part of our economy, it is really driven around the need to move forward as a country and more broadly, as a society, with decarbonization. The electricity sector can play a big part in decarbonization and the move away from gas-burning vehicles to the electrification of buses and transport. An overriding theme on everything to do with electricity now is what role we can play in the decarbonization of our economy. We tend to get very focused on the province and country we live in, but it extends well beyond that to every part of the world.
Is there any other megatrend on your list?
It is really around innovation, and this will come up throughout the course of our conversation today. Do we have the right people with the right skills, with the right thought process around innovation that will allow the electricity sector to advance? It is a bit of a cliché when we talk about people, skills, and training, but this is a central point to being able to accomplish what we want to do as a country.
How attractive is the electricity sector to Canada’s youth and how can this be improved?
When most people think about the energy sector or utilities, innovation is not typically the first word that comes to mind. People tend to think of an older industry and operating environment, so it is not like new wave companies such as Shopify or Uber. Actually, from an innovation standpoint, the energy industry is incredibly interesting. If you think about how far we have come, especially over the last five years, we have been addressing how to take technologies like solar and wind and make them relevant to the electricity sector. How do we advance resources like nuclear power and make gas plants more environmentally friendly? If you want a chance to be innovative, an industry that is on the verge of being innovative is a great place to be. The opportunities to bring that innovation are great. We have not done a great job as an industry branding ourselves as a place where highly innovative people want to be, but some of us are getting better at it and are able to put that message out to prospective hires to think about our industry as a neat place to be.
Is that where a group like the Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC) comes in?
Yes, it is. There are a number of groups that take on the same type of mantra where we try to talk about the things we are doing. I can give you a great example. Out at one of our nuclear stations, we are deploying technology and robots more than any other company or industry is. For the engineers and tradespeople working with us, this is the leading edge of technology. We have not done a great job of making that well-known, and the challenge the industry faces is in attracting the best and the brightest and people who want to make a change and difference.
How can the electricity sector’s challenges be overcome?
On the people side, a lot of it is around awareness. If you start off by making people aware of the challenges, challenges are good because they create opportunities. Opportunities attract the best and brightest because there is a chance to make a difference and solve a bigger problem. When I talk to our younger people, they want to make a difference. That is not to say older workers do not want to make a difference, but it is a really big theme for younger workers to want to work at a company where they know they can be impactful on a broader set of social issues. We need to be more assertive to make people aware that the electricity sector is one of the greatest industries to be in if you want to make a difference, especially on climate change.
“Challenges are good because they create opportunities. Opportunities attract the best and brightest because there is a chance to make a difference.”
We want to electrify every vehicle, bus, heavy trucking transportation, and building so we become carbon neutral either by Canada’s target of 2050 or OPG’s target of 2040. That is where the challenges and opportunities are and that is why the energy sector will be the biggest participant in being able to accomplish this.
What kinds of partnerships are needed to enable the electricity sector to support the decarbonization of our economy?
Your point is a really good one in that no one person, technology, or company is going to successfully move down this path alone. There is a variety of different partnership and collaboration arrangements. We can start with the federal and provincial governments. It is important that a policy framework be laid out. It is great to have a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. It is much more complex to do it. You need the policy frameworks around decarbonization that create an environment where people want to help solve the problem. This goes back to your innovation point. We also need to ask how companies, including universities and research institutes, can all participate in this.
“Innovation is not a thing. It is a thought process and a way of being for a company.”
At OPG, we have partnerships with other companies like Enbridge, a big gas company where we do a lot of work together. We partner with technology vendors like General Electric (GE), Siemens, and more. We partner with universities and colleges because that is the starting point for a lot of the advanced innovation research that becomes part of how we approach decarbonization. Innovation is not a thing. It is a thought process and a way of being for a company. The more people you have involved from different institutions, the more likely it is you will be successful in solving a problem. That problem is very clear; it is right in front of us, but it requires groups of thought processes that are very diverse in what their goals and objectives are.
How will a focus on climate change impact Canada’s electricity workforce and how can those effects be mitigated?
When I talk about a welder, a certain vision comes to mind. They are the people who weld steel and other things for companies and the energy sector, and that vision tends to be of someone working with a hot torch in their hand and a piece of metal. If you went to Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, where we are putting $12.8 billion into having close to 4,000 MW of carbon-free energy, and talk to the welding personnel, you will learn that it is very high tech. In fact, it is robotic and a lot of it is remote-control oriented. In light of this, we need to reskill the trades so that they can take advantage of the technology innovation that happens. Reskilling is important because it leads to more cost-effective and cheaper power, which allows us to clean up the energy sector even further.
There is also this idea that workers simply wait for a piece of equipment to break and then go fix it, but that is not how it is done anymore. A lot of equipment provides predictive signals on when it might not work properly, and you fix it before it ever breaks. These are the types of breakthroughs that make electricity or energy cheaper for everybody and therefore, we can electrify more things, cleaning up the economy. All these things tend to be interrelated.
What role must different stakeholders play in ensuring our future workforce has the skills it will need, is diverse, and productive?
If you look at some of the professional groups like engineers and others that come out of universities, every university and college needs to step back and ask if their programs are really preparing people for the workforce of the future. Some are, but some are not. High schools should have standard courses for artificial intelligence everywhere. There is no reason for it not to have those programs, and as education system, starting in elementary and going all the way through, we need to re-examine whether the programs younger people are taking are relevant to the types of jobs being identified.
What we are increasingly looking for as we hire people is whether they are entrepreneurial and current with innovation and technology developments. We need to take the combined workforce and make sure we are on the front edge of technology, and maybe break some of the myths of what it is like to be in the energy sector.
“What we are increasingly looking for as we hire people is whether they are entrepreneurial and current with innovation and technology developments.”
Diversity is a very important topic across every company. Companies are asking how they ensure their workforce is as diverse as the population is. That is important from two standpoints: first is that it is right socially—that is what any workforce should look like and we need to get there as a company. Secondly, diversity in thought and innovation can only be achieved if your workforce is diverse. Both of those go hand in hand and they are in the control of OPG, but other stakeholders will have a role in this as well.
Who and what would you pitch to strengthen Canada’s electricity workforce in 30 seconds?
I would pitch to every political leader, from the Prime Minister down to the premiers. The pitch would be really easy. I would tell the government, after the pandemic, to refocus on reeducation and the upskilling of our entire population. That is where the money needs to go. Do that, and most other problems will get solved. Skip that process, and our economy will have a harder time recovering and being as strong as we want it to be.