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ESC ‘Power in Motion’ report confirms severe skilled labour shortage


February 6, 2012
By Alyssa Dalton

February 6, 2012 – Released today, the new Electricity Sector Council (ESC) 2011 workforce planning report, Power in Motion, confirms the findings of two earlier ESC reports— there is a severe skilled labour shortage and united action is needed to meet these unprecedented labour market challenges.

Built in the 1970s and 80s, Canada’s electricity infrastructure is now undergoing a major overhaul to “next generation” infrastructure—over the next 20 years, government investment of almost $300 billion will see much of the existing system replaced or upgraded, and a third of the generating capacity switch to renewable sources, particularly wind, said ESC.

“That’s the good news, but the challenge for electricity employers is finding the workforce to build and operate this new infrastructure,” stated the report. While electrical utilities have over 100,000 employees coast to coast, they will need to recruit an additional 45,000 in the next five years, it added. “That’s how many skilled workers, managers and supervisors it will take to refurbish the existing systems, build and operate the new infrastructure including renewable energy, and replace a wave of specialized and experienced workers who are beginning to retire,” it predicted.

The report showed that for many key occupations, the available workforce will not meet the unprecedented labour requirements, and employers will need to look for new recruits with new skills and occupations tied to very different technology and systems. ESC has also been conducting Labour Market Information (LMI) studies to track labour requirements and advise employers on how to meet them. This latest report provides insights from 89 employer organizations and 47 post-secondary institutions, covering 31 critical occupations (19 electricity-specific) in 140 labour markets across Canada.

“None of us can do this alone,” said Norm Fraser, ESC board chair and CEO, Distribution & Customer Service at Hydro Ottawa. “There are going to be extraordinary hiring requirements over the next five years, and partnerships are key. We need to work together and with educators, governments and unions to raise awareness about the issues and find solutions.”

“Canada’s electricity sector has power in numbers. It’s time to put that power in motion,” he said.

According to ESC, guiding that collaborative effort is the purpose of the Power in Motion report. “It gives clear direction on the new skilled occupations the industry needs and where to find them, including when to find them with a new LMI model that forecasts future labour market supply and demand,” said ESC. The report also outlined solutions on how to recruit for these occupations, with insights to guide human resources planning throughout the electricity sector.

The report stressed the need to work with provincial governments, colleges and universities to add new post- secondary programs, apprenticeship, certifications and internships for engineers, technicians, technologists and specialized trades (such as those involved in solar, wind turbine and geothermal systems). The need for carefully targeted co-op programs to recruit the new IT specialist graduates who will manage the increasingly complex grids systems, as well as integrate and operate new, untested and large scale renewable energy systems was also pointed out. The need to explore underemployed labour markets including immigrants and temporary foreign workers, women, Aboriginal workers and other diversity groups was also noted.

The report also revealed interesting did-you-knows—such as why the electricity sector’s retirement losses are among the highest for any Canadian industry, and what unions can do to make sure workforce resources are used more efficiently.

“Canada’s electricity industry has distinct recruitment and retention strategies to apply, and unique advantages to offer potential workers,” said Michelle Branigan, executive director of ESC. “Electricity employers are among the biggest and best known in many provinces, and can attract new workers with great career opportunities, benefits and long term job security. Renewable energy providers can promise green jobs and fast growth with rapidly changing technologies.

“And with a strong tradition of supporting licensing and certifications for specialized occupations, the electricity industry is well positioned to make a case for new investments in post secondary training and apprenticeship. In fact, this report can help by presenting evidence of the unique and potentially limiting impacts of skill shortages,” she added.