New policies and growing public interest in energy efficiency are a boon to workers in construction, manufacturing, utilities and much more

Doug Johnson

The energy-efficiency sector is something of a hidden gem in Canada’s economy, employing a wide array of workers across the country. Recent research has shown that both Canadian and US-based employers in the industry are finding it hard to fill openings in this diverse sector, as a good portion of the workforce lacks the experience, skills, qualifications, certifications and education employers need. This is a massive economic opportunity. For young people hoping to or currently working in skilled trades, for example, energy efficiency represents a robust and growing market, one where their skills and education can be put to good use as a part of the growing low-carbon economy.

The majority of energy-efficiency jobs in Canada generally fall in a few key categories: construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, professional and business services, utilities and other services, according to a report by ECO Canada on energy-efficiency employment in the country. The report also notes that there were more than 50,000 Canadian businesses doing energy-efficiency work in 2018, which represents $14.9 billion in revenue and a total of 436,000 people doing work in energy efficiency every day.

Making the shift

For some, it can be an easy transition to the energy-efficiency sector from other parts of the economy. Vancouver’s Luke Dolan began his career in construction. After being confronted with how much energy and money homes lost each year due to inefficiencies, he grew interested in sustainable building practices.

Now, over the past 10 years, his firm, Capital Home Energy, an energy design company, has tested around 5,000 homes and helped many families update their home insulation and heating systems

According to Dolan, Vancouver’s building codes, and BC’s building code writ large, have become more energy efficient – a boon to his business.

“We’re seeing a fundamental shift in the building industry. For 30 years, energy building codes have been stagnant and now it’s ramping up extremely fast because of the provincial goal for all new homes to be built to a net-zero ready standard by 2032,” Dolan said.

 House model, light bulb with green leaf, solar panel, wind mill on wood balance scale, depicts the awareness of environment.
Government incentives create opportunities

Other districts around Canada are also offering incentives for homeowners to retrofit their dwellings or for home-builders to consider energy-efficient fixtures to save on their electricity and heating bills. This is likely to create new employment opportunities in construction.

The Canadian government announced $1.01 billion for energy-efficiency programs, including retrofits, in the March 2019 budget. This funding is disseminated through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund, and has already seen uptake in cities such as Toronto, Hamilton, ON, and Halifax. These funding injections will translate into jobs in key energy-efficiency sectors.

“Policies at federal and provincial levels have spurred actions to achieve energy savings through the development and deployment of more efficient goods and services,” the ECO Canada report said.

It added that, according to public opinion research, 88% of Canadians were interested in purchasing more efficient appliances. Perhaps more surprisingly, 79% considered upgrading their homes to save energy and 78% responded they would consider switching to efficient heating and cooling systems.

Projected employment growth

The ECO Canada report projects that the energy-efficiency sector will grow by 8.3% in 2019, creating 36,000 jobs. Similarly, employers in the field expect a growth of 7.8% this year.

South of the border, the US energy-efficiency sector reported more than 2.3 million jobs last year – a 3.4% increase over the year prior, according to the 2019 US Energy and Employment Report (USEER).

Meanwhile, the 2018 Less is More jobs report from Efficiency Canada and Clean Energy Canada predicts that 118,000 annual jobs would be created between now and 2030, should the field continue to develop in a robust way. In the same time period, Canada’s GDP could increase by $356 billion as a result of improved energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency may not draw as much attention as other policy solutions, but make no mistake: it’s one of the most important – and certainly most cost-effective – ways to upgrade Canada for the future,” the report said.

Besides providing a steady stream of work and saving Canadians money, energy-efficient buildings also help reduce Canada’s carbon footprint. The Less is More report calculated that energy-efficiency measures will “help Canada cut one-quarter of the carbon pollution required to meet our international commitments.”

What kind of jobs are available?

While the bulk of energy-efficiency jobs – 66% – in Canada are in construction, the sector also employs people in other diverse professions.

For instance, Toronto-based company ecobee developed a series of smart, Wi-Fi-controlled thermostats, employing staff in sales, marketing, user experience, account management, programming, data science, analytics, business development and more.

“When I started my career, energy efficiency was a torch carried by NGOs and utilities. Then rose companies and brands like ecobee, experiencing huge year-over-year growth,” said Fatima Crerar, the firm’s director of impact and sustainability.

Other energy-efficiency sector firms in Canada work in engineering, architecture, technology, consulting and design.

As interest in energy efficiency grows, so too do the job opportunities that surround it. Similarly, as governments around Canada seek to protect the environment and help citizens save money using improved technology and building techniques, there will be a stark need for young workers with modern skillsets and a willingness to learn.

Doug Johnson is a journalist and writer specializing in science, environment and agri-food topics. His work has appeared in MIT’s Undark, Hakai Magazine, The Edmonton Journal and more.

Johnson wrote this article on behalf of Efficiency Canada, the national voice for an energy efficient economy. Housed at Carleton University, as part of the Carleton Sustainable Energy Research Centre, Efficiency Canada advocates to make our country a global leader in energy efficiency.


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