Training essential to post-fossil fuel job transition, survey finds

By Catherine Griwkowsky July 14, 2021

The majority of workers in the fossil fuel industry want to transition to green jobs but are worried about being left behind, a new survey from Abacus Data in partnership with Iron & Earth found.

Of the workers surveyed, 67 per cent said climate change is a challenge that must be addressed and 69 per cent said they would be interested in a career in the net-zero economy.

Luisa Da Silva, executive director of Iron & Earth, told AB Today the survey confirmed much of what the group has heard from workers and that the federal government must step up as part of its promised Just Transition Act.

“A ‘just transition’ that doesn’t centre workers’ concerns and needs is a transition that won’t be just,” she said in an interview. “We can’t leave the workers behind.”

Da Silva herself is a geoscientist born and raised in Ontario who started her career in the Alberta oilsands working in steam-assisted gravity drainage facilities before moving to a career in conservation. She took over as executive director of Iron & Earth three months ago to advocate as a bridge for workers looking for new net-zero jobs, industry and government.

“Fossil fuel workers recognize the threat of climate change,” she said. “And they believe that Canada should pivot to the net-zero economy. They want to work in the net-zero economy. Many already have some experience. And they recognize that they would thrive in a transition, especially if provided with rapid upskilling opportunities.”

When asked whether they’d take up an offer for training, 88 per cent of oil and gas workers said they’d be interested.

Without training, far fewer workers believe they could transition to a new career.

Several career options are on the radar of the UCP government. Part of the economic recovery strategy includes economic diversification with a focus on carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and geothermal.

The province’s carbon price on large industrial emitters has prompted private sector investment in solar power and other alternative energy projects.

Among those asked by Abacus:

  • 20 per cent said they would move to an energy efficiency career;
  • 19 per cent said they could work in hydro power;
  • 18 per cent said they’d work on carbon capture and storage;
  • 17 per cent said they could work in biofuels or energy storage; and
  • 14 per cent are happy to work in either biomass, hydrogen, solar, wine or geothermal.

Those numbers jump to 90 per cent when workers were asked if they would transition to another career with 12 months or less of training.

“Workers want to transition to the net-zero economy and they believe that they will thrive in the net-zero economy,” said Da Silva. “But there are barriers that are holding them back to making that transition, job training and upskilling is one of them.”

Among those workers, the majority said without support they’re worried about the transition. Reduced wages accounted for 70 per cent of concerns, while losing their job made up 69 per cent of responses.

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