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Kathy McCrum
VP, HR and Safety - SaskPower

Training Canada’s Future Electricity Workforce

Published on

Takeaways

  1. The nationwide move towards clean energy necessitates upskilling efforts to help employees in the electricity industry stay current with technological innovations in the sector.
  2. Changes in educational curricula are needed to ensure graduates are equipped to meet the hiring needs of employees in the electricity industry.
  3. Both prospective and current employees need to take charge of their careers and acquire the skills needed in the future electricity industry.

Action

To help the electricity industry set concrete goals and expectations for current and future employees, Canada will need to have a clear strategy for a national grid. Furthermore, the government can help with upskilling and training efforts by providing more funding for this purpose.


What are the main forces shaping Canada’s electricity sector today, and how prepared is Canada to deal with them? 

There are several factors shaping where the industry is going. Federal government regulation, with respect to the target to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is certainly shaping our strategies and what we need to do differently within our organizations.  

I would be amiss if I did not mention the move away from fossil fuels and conventional coal. That is impacting four of the provinces more specifically, but is overall shaping where we are going. The federal government is providing funding that is helping with different types of clean energy and low carbon projects, and some provinces are being forced to move ahead even quicker than the federal government target of 2050.  

It is also important to not forget about what is happening in the US with the change in leadership. With Joe Biden as the leader, he has set a new target for the US grid. It is very aggressive, calling for clean energy by 2035, which sends a message to vendors and the public. This will only expedite what we do here in Canada. It is a big force that is shaping where we are going. 

“As Indigenous peoples work to benefit from Canada’s economy, it will become increasingly important for all organizations and utilities to partner with, involve, and consult Indigenous peoples.”  

Another thing that is important to mention is Indigenous economic reconciliation. From the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls-to-action to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), these have a significant impact. As Indigenous peoples work to benefit from Canada’s economy, it will become increasingly important for all organizations and utilities to partner with, involve, and consult Indigenous peoples. Partnerships will play a huge role in some of the projects both on transmission and generation across Canada. Indigenous reconciliation has forced organizations to think differently about how they hire and train. There are still some unconscious biases that exist in some of the electricity industry’s practices in what we do and how we set people up for success, train, and upskill. All of those things will become more important as we look ahead. 

“As other industries move to electrify their processes to reduce their carbon footprint, the electric utilities will have to move in this direction to be net-zero well before 2050.” 

Electrification is another important piece. The electrification of transportation is impacting and shaping the future. It is also going to have an impact on how we heat our buildings in the near future. It will create load growth with jurisdictions that are flatter, and as other industries move to electrify their processes to reduce their carbon footprint, the electric utilities will have to move in this direction to be net-zero well before 2050. Electrification is forcing that timeline to be even more aggressive and we have to keep up.  


Which technologies will have the biggest influence on Canada’s electricity sector and the skill requirements for its workforce?  

The grid modernization piece is key. We are moving to modernize the grid and within that, there are four different projects and I will speak specifically to two of them. One would be our move to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) or smart meters. That is changing our customers’ ability to see what is happening with their own power usage. We had this in place for a couple of years but we missed the mark in terms of having the appropriate resources in place to do something with the data. We are moving towards that now, but that is going to require different skill sets within.  

We have to look at retraining within the company and bringing in people with new skill sets who can analyze that data, such as data scientists. It is really becoming a science. That is a big piece for us as well as amalgamating all the technologies and having a centralized operations centre that keeps an eye on all of it to make sure we can make use of the data that is at our fingertips. We have not gotten to the point where we are able to use that data the way we want, but that is certainly going to change. Being able to use data is going to change how we hire and our requirements, in terms of being able to look at the data and make sound decisions using critical thinking. 


How have these megatrends affected hiring, training requirements, and collaboration in the electricity sector? 

Industry megatrends have pushed us to be far more collaborative with educational institutions, as well as the federal government and associations like Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC). EHRC just put out some whitepapers about the future of work and the skill sets required, so there is work happening there.  

Our training is evolving. We will need more role-playing-based learning that is less prescriptive and more focused on critical thinking and problem solving. We are looking for data analysts and scientists so that changes the game. We also need business development and marketing skills because our industry is changing and there should not be a rock left unturned. In the past, we did not have to do a lot of that type of work just because of the nature of the industry. Lastly, statistical and programming skills are also important.  

We want to partner with other organizations to see how they are working through some of these challenges and partnering with educational institutions. Partnership has a real role to play. I sit on a council in the CEA and we talk about this all the time. We need to start expediting some of the action around it. We also need more funding from the federal government. 

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What is the role of employers in the electricity sector going forward to ensure a skilled and diverse workforce?  

Partnerships with educational institutions are key to preparing for the changes that are going to be required from a skill set perspective, to really help the industry determine future needs and upskill as required. It is also vital for teaching skills internally and to help shift gears with onboarding. Even hiring practices are affected, especially when it comes to the Indigenous population. Moving towards a learning culture will be key for the electricity industry. We are moving that way at SaskPower but we still have a ways to go. 


What is the role of educators going forward to ensure a skilled and diverse electricity workforce?  

The role they can play is to really work with organizations and industry to adapt and develop a curriculum. The curriculum needs to change because the traditional teachings in post-secondaries and other institutions are not going to fly. We are lucky in Saskatchewan. We have great relationships with our two universities and trades schools. Educational institutions need to listen and adapt. 


What is the role of governments in preparing Canada’s future electricity workforce?  

Constant communication is key. The Government of Saskatchewan is our shareholder so they are obviously very invested in this. Provincial governments can continue to help the electricity industry move the dial and understand where the industry is going, which the government is very astute at doing. For the federal government, the funding piece is key. The federal government could play more of a role in helping with the bigger strategy of what is happening with the industry and how we can work together as a nation. Sometimes, the industry feels very siloed as we have 10 jurisdictions or power pools. 

“The federal government could play more of a role in helping with the bigger strategy of what is happening with the industry and how we can work together as a nation.” 

Many provincial electricity producers have tie-lines to the US, but are very reluctant to go east or west because there is not an incentive to do that. The federal government needs to change that whole strategy. It would also help in the allocation of funding so that funding is not just going everywhere without an overall strategy for the country and for that funding. The government could play a better role there. 


How should employees be preparing for the future of work in the electricity sector?  

Some organizations do not know yet what they will look like. The ambiguity of that is very challenging for people. Have the right work ethic and attitude, and constantly try to improve your skill sets, communicate with your managers, and seek out more information because knowledge is power. Employees need to take responsibility for their careers. People around you can help support you, but the only person that owns your career is you. Sometimes, we can fall into the victim mentality. I have been there myself. The question is how to get out of that and be part of the solution. Our employees will be a big part of our solution. Once we can get past the uncertainty of what the future will look like and some of the big decisions that have not yet been made, employees will become a key part of unlocking and executing the plan. Hang in there because this is not the first time an industry has gone through such significant transformations. Just because your current job might no longer exist, does not mean you will not exist. Have an open mind because the future is going to look different, but it does not mean you will not be in it. 


What and who would you pitch to strengthen and improve how Canada trains our future energy workforce?  

I would pitch to the Prime Minister. Canada needs a better, more robust, collective strategy in terms of a national grid. That vision should include how Canada can be more connected, equal in terms of utility rates, where the future is going, and how everyone can participate in opportunities for cleaner and renewable energy. There should also be more funding to help upskill. Keep working with industry and organizations to get future employees there so that we can all be successful in our organizations. 

Kathy McCrum
VP, HR and Safety - SaskPower

Bio: Kathy McCrum is the Vice President of Human Resources and Safety at SaskPower. Before this, she held senior leadership positions in human resources at the Co-op Refinery Complex and Canadian Pacific Railway. She serves as Vice Chair of the Human Resources Council at the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA). In addition, she also sits on the Canadian Professional Human Resources Saskatchewan Board of Directors. She is a current member of the Board of Directors at Regina Exhibition Association Limited 

 

Organization Profile: SaskPower is the principal electric utility in Saskatchewan, Canada. It serves more than 538,000 customers through more than 157,000 kilometres of power lines throughout the province and manages over $11.8 billion in assets. Their facilities include three coal-fired power stations, five natural gas stations, seven hydroelectric stations, and two wind power facilities.