As the world moves into a clean energy future, there will be a great need to address the challenges of transitioning oil and gas workers towards renewable energy jobs.
When the Alberta oilsands slowdown hit in 2015, it was mostly the workers who were left feeling the brunt. And while the exploration industry is recovering, many jobs have disappeared and many more are likely to be lost to increased automation.
Numerous organizations are spearheading efforts and advocating for oil patch workers to transition towards a clean energy economy. One is Iron and Earth, an organization led by oil sands workers who believe in increasing renewable energy projects as a source of employment.
When oil prices fell, it became apparent that there needs to be greater dialogue between fossil fuel workers and those within the renewable energy sector with the aim of transitioning towards a more environmentally sustainable energy mix.
Iron and Earth hopes to train 1,000 coal, oil and gas workers, including those within Aboriginal communities, to become solar technicians. Its Communications Director, Jen Turner told local energy blog pvbuzz that “energy workers have skills which are transferable and versatile but need support for them to diversify into the market.”
Turner stressed the need to retrain oil-sand workers as a crucial component to be competitive in the clean energy economy. Last year, Iron and Earth released a report calling on the need for apprenticeships, interim training while upgrading their facilities in building renewable energy manufacturing capacity.
A Siemens Canada analyst projects that by 2030, $50 billion will be invested in renewable energy projects within Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Across the border in the US, training programs for oil, coal, and gas workers exist in states like Colorado. Solar Energy International operates training programs which help workers in Colorado transition towards solar employment.
Many of these training programs take place in communities hard hit by coal shutdowns as the US solar industry accelerates.
“The trick has been to avoid political rhetoric sometimes found between pro-fossil fuel and pro-renewable energy sectors over climate change. The trick is to find some common ground in these communities,” said Chris Turek, Director of Marketing and Communications at Solar Energy International
“We can’t decarbonize the economy, which is still massively fossil fuel-based, without changing the labour market,” Benjamin Denis, the European Trade Union Confederation policy advisor.
In the future, encouraging more training for those affected by potential layoffs within the fossil fuel industry is necessary. It’s important to support oil patch workers affected most by this disruption, and to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy the clean energy boom.