Ontario needs more engineers in the energy efficiency and green building sectors

As Ontario and Canada transition towards a low-carbon future, the energy efficiency and building sector will be at the forefront of change. To accelerate this, we need to strengthen the capacity of the existing workforce and attract more people to work in these sectors, especially engineers. This is why OSPE has joined Workforce Coalition 2030, which is a broad cross-sectoral coalition of employers, educators, and practitioners across the construction ecosystem, working to collectively impact government policy, business practice and education.

Engineers believe that sustainability, investing in talent development and retention, and fostering innovation must be the priority of new government funding allocations. As COVID-19 has proven to be a major disruptor to the world order, causing rapid changes to the work force, this will ensure a strong economy that can withstand future catastrophes.

Prior to COVID-19, some of Ontario’s most strategic sectors, such as infrastructure and transportation, were already facing a talent-gap in their engineering departments. Engineering jobs were being given to international firms because Ontario did not have the right talent to get the job done. This is deeply concerning as the economic recovery of the province depends on the ability to match talent with job vacancies and to ensure that this talent can adapt to market demands. This concern has become magnified by immediate demands for more technologically equipped engineers due to changes caused by the current crisis.

The pandemic has also expedited trends such as digitalization and building information modeling that were already transforming building design and engineering. By aligning with Workforce 2030, OSPE looks to accelerate new approaches for rapid upskilling, grow women’s participation in STEM occupations, and emphasize continuing professional education to build design capacity and deliver enhanced low-carbon buildings performance.

Ontario must invest in engineering talent across the province. One of the primary barriers to innovation and growth is the access to a talent pool that possesses the skills needed to adapt to the future economy. While the labour market has faced severe disarray from the pandemic, it also presents an opportunity to reskill unemployed and underemployed Ontarians, with a focus on sectors with sustainable long-term growth.

In 2018, Ontario’s green building sector directly employed approximately 436,000 workers across 51,000 establishments in the following key industries: construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, professional and business services and utilities, all of which employed engineers in key roles vital to planning and executing green projects. Together, these industries generated $82.6 billion in estimated energy efficiency operating revenues in 2018. In the next 10 years, targeted investment and policies in support of green buildings could lead to 626,080 direct green building jobs in Ontario.

However, despite this projected growth, research from the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada reveals that employers are experiencing difficulties hiring energy efficiency workers, mainly due to the lack of qualified workers. This suggests a lack of adequate skills training, which directly leads to a slow down in economic recovery efforts.

Ensuring an adequate supply of skilled workers is crucial to supporting the sector’s growth. This is extremely important now more than ever, due to high unemployment rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently the energy efficiency workforce is also, on average, less diverse than the national workforce. Just 18% of workers were reported to be female, and 2% indigenous, both figures below the national average. Proper government funding towards training in this sector can lead to an increase in diversity and equity seeking groups.

Further investment in this sector would not only help fight climate change, but would also clearly stimulate the economy by creating more jobs for Ontarians across the entire province and multiple industries. This opportunity for reskilling, education, and job creation must not be overlooked.  

OSPE supports government policies that help the energy efficiency sector thrive and lead to a more productive and sustainable workforce that helps grow the economy while protecting the environment.

Therefore, OSPE suggests the Government of Ontario:

  1. Ensures an in-depth skills gaps and needs assessment of the energy efficiency sector is conducted, including the building subsector and occupations across the full ecosystem, from design and construction to building operation and management. This would identify the most effective education and training pathways and determine how to update this information regularly and expeditiously as markets and technologies evolve. Such assessment would lead to better understanding of current and future needs.  
  2. Strengthen training provision by increasing the capacity of educators and trainers, specifically with emphasis on green literacy basics, low-carbon skills and latest technologies training content.
  3. Support training uptake by aiding new entrants and incumbent workers to build in-demand skills and rapidly upskill for re-employment, especially towards performing state-of-good repair work such as building retrofits for energy efficiency and indoor air quality improvements. It is essential that design and engineering professionals, as well as skilled trades workers, especially those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, are helped to take on immediate skills training in areas already identified by employers and unions in order to meet urgent demand for low-carbon building skills and associated occupations. Some of these include energy modeling, low-carbon materials, mechanical electrical and building automation systems, geothermal pumps, and photovoltaic systems, plumbing and pipefitting, etc.
  4. Create incentives to support a strong culture of lifelong learning across Ontario, where employers and employees are provided with the tools and resources to upskill and retrain local talent. This year, OSPE launched the Ontario Engineering Academy (OEA) to up-skill/re-skill engineering graduates exclusively to meet industry needs in Ontario. Your support of this initiative by mandating companies be responsible for the upskilling of local employees is critical for engineering graduates to adequately support Ontario’s economic recovery. There is an opportunity for the government to incentivize engineering companies to invest in the professional development of their employees, to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and know-how to design and execute based on new realities.

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