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Michelle Branigan
Chief Executive Officer - Electricity Human Resources Canada

Upskilling the Canadian Electricity Sector Workforce

Published on

Takeaways

  1. The Canadian government needs to continue creating policies that allow for the efficient training and upskilling of the electricity sector workforce.
  2. Youth participation in the electricity industry can be boosted through employers being more cognizant of the youth’s desire for compelling and meaningful work.
  3. Paid work-integrated learning programs such as co-ops and internships play a significant role in preparing the future workforce and helping employers access key talent.

Action

The government should continue its efforts to fund skills development programs, while being mindful of the regulatory or policy changes they put in place which may affect industry standards and certifications. Clear communication between the government and industry will result in more efficient upskilling processes.


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

At present, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. The electricity industry has been incredibly resilient throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our leaders have ensured that our lights stay on and our workers are safe. However, I want to speak beyond the challenges of the pandemic because we need to recognize and plan for drivers of change that will impact the electrical industry over the next decade. 

There is so much momentum in the industry right now. Energy policies are going green at all levels of government be that federal, provincial, or municipal. We have new technologies that are changing the grid, and a significant proportion or percentage of our workforce are retiring or eligible for retirement. 

There is so much momentum in the industry right now. Energy policies are going green at all levels of government be that federal, provincial, or municipal.

The innovation that is happening in technology and business processes is reshaping how we generate, deliver, and use electricity. Some of the things that come to mind are artificial intelligence, smart grids, and the electrification of the Canadian economy. While innovation brings tremendous opportunities in energy efficiency, pricing, quality, and consumer choice, it also brings challenges around upskilling and developing an adaptable workforce in a rapidly changing environment. 


Are we competitively prepared for shocks like climate change, digital transformation, and pandemics?  

Canada is well prepared on a number of different fronts. We are world leaders in renewable energy generation, we have a very strong education and training system, and we have a reliable and safe electricity grid. However, Canada needs to continue to lead in developing policies that support labour mobility and credential recognition, as well as support a world-class workforce that thrives on innovation. That is why adaptability is so important. We also have to recognize too that consumers are becoming more informed and vocal about their expectations for cleaner and cheaper electricity. Communications are going to be really important, both in regards to energy literacy and the opportunities that exist for employment in this sector. 


What is the demographic make-up of Canada’s electricity workforce and what does it mean for the future of work in the sector?  

We have an industry that is in flux, and all of those major trends have one thing in common: the need to build teams with the skills to manage the power systems of the future. Regardless of the energy source, developing a supply of skilled, agile, and adaptable workers is critical to ensuring Canada’s long-term electricity stability. We know that we need to build our labour pool. Over 86% of the electricity sector’s hiring needs are a result of retirements. Only 14% is due to expansion.  

Regardless of the energy source, developing a supply of skilled, agile, and adaptable workers is critical to ensuring Canada’s long-term electricity stability. 

We also know that the current workforce is overwhelmingly male and older, and that is a risk because that lack of diversity creates tunnel vision. We are missing out on a lot of talent by not bringing in people who have not traditionally worked in the energy sector. This means looking at groups that we can draw from, such as Indigenous people, women, and internationally-trained workers. Developing a culture of inclusion in Canada’s electricity sector will take commitment and attention, and it has to be genuine. We have a shared responsibility to make change happen.  

We also have to look at youth. Our most recent research report, Generation Impact, provided insight into the impressions of Millennials and Gen Z Canadians on pursuing careers in the electricity sector, and the study was very interesting. It found that youth are very open to opportunities in the electricity sector, but they lack awareness of the variety of careers that are available. They do not have an understanding of how the sector’s values and direction can complement their own ambitions.  

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How do we address the challenges of labour supply and underrepresentation in Canada’s electricity workforce?  

We know from our labour market intelligence that youth make up only 5% of Canada’s electricity workforce. That is low compared to the 14% average across all sectors. Storytelling is so important. We need to do a much better job of telling the incredible electricity story to our next generation of talent. While it is largely technical, the industry also comprises of workers who are not involved with science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. This includes legal departments, marketing, customer service, human resources, and more. Every one of those jobs is crucial to making sure that our system works. Many young people just do not understand the sheer breadth of careers that are available in the sector.  

“Youth make up only 5% of Canada’s electricity workforce. That is low compared to the 14% average across all sectors.” 

The new generation does not want to spend decades working their way up the corporate ladder. They are looking for opportunities to grow quickly and they want to have a voice. Employers need to spend time understanding the younger generation’s values and what it is that they want in a job, company, and industry. It is important for employers to commit to providing work-integrated learning opportunities to students. This means co-op placements and paid internships. Not only does it provide the employer with access to new talent that has the latest training in new technologies and business practices, it also gives the students the opportunity to learn professional skills before they graduate. These professional skills include communication and critical thinking, and this will allow us to continue breaking down the barriers that exist between school and real life in terms of what it actually looks like when you are working with an employer.  

“The new generation does not want to spend decades working their way up the corporate ladder. They are looking for opportunities to grow quickly and they want to have a voice.” 

The electricity sector has a lot to offer. It is an essential service and underpins all aspects of modern life. There is continued growth in renewable energy and the sector is trending towards lowering industrial emissions. We are all trying to lower greenhouse gases (GHG). The sector is really responsive to the climate change crisis and that offers young people an opportunity to work in a career where they feel they can make a difference. There is also plenty of innovation in terms of the integration of digital and emerging technologies across all sector operations, and so there is a lot to attract young people to the sector. 

Investing in young people now is going to drive innovation through to the introduction of new ideas, perspectives, and priorities. The current government has tremendously helped to support post-secondary students to gain paid work experience before graduation through a Student Work Placement program, which we deliver to the electricity sector as our Empowering Futures Program. EHRC has placed over 1,000 students with employers across the country, so we are proud of that. Governments will need to engage closely with employers, educators, and trainers about any regulatory changes that might affect industry standards and certifications. That is really important. 

It is very difficult for employers to hire, train, and educate their workforce if a policy change means some of those people may be laid off as a result. The currency of that discussion is so important. At EHRC, we try to bring those voices together, because there is no one group that can make sure we are ready to meet all of the skills challenges we need to address in the Canadian electricity sector. We need to all work closely together.  


Who and what would you pitch to strengthen Canada’s electricity workforce in 30 seconds?  

Let us go right to the top. My request to the Prime Minister would be to continue to focus on skills development as a priority. The federal government has invested tremendously to help post-secondary students gain paid work experience through the Student Work Placement Program, which EHRC delivers as the Empowering Futures program. That is so important. Government needs to communicate regularly to keep employers and educators informed about any regulatory or policy changes that are going to affect industry standards and certifications. A skilled and trained workforce is an essential component of decarbonization. The transition to clean energy has to be built upon inclusive policies that strengthen and support a skilled and trained workforce. This all aligns with the priorities of the current federal government, so I am optimistic that we are moving in the right direction. The decision-makers just need a nudge now and then, but that is what EHRC is here for.  

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Michelle Branigan
Chief Executive Officer - Electricity Human Resources Canada

Bio: Michelle Branigan is the Chief Executive Officer of Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC). She has over 20 years of experience in human resources development, recruitment, and curriculum development and evaluation. She holds a Master’s degree in Training and Performance Management from the University of Leicester. She is a Board Member with the Energy Council of Canada and was a recipient of the Women in Renewable Energy’s 2015 Woman of the Year award. 

 

Organization Profile: Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC) is a non-profit organization supporting the human resources needs of the Canadian electricity and renewable energy sector. Their services include connecting and convening stakeholders in the industry, conducting industry research to gain insights on the industry workforce and anticipate future needs, as well as creating programs, resources, and tools for the sector.