Green jobs offer hope for workers at risk of automation

Report details what employers can do to facilitate workers’ transition from high-risk, low mobility jobs to green occupations

Green jobs offer hope for workers at risk of automation

One in five Canadian employees is working a job that is at considerable risk of automation – also known as high-risk, low-mobility (HRLM) occupations – according to a report from The Conference Board of Canada.

That equates to 3.5 million people across 92 occupations. And for these employees, there are few or no options to transition into lower-risk occupations without undergoing significant retraining.

On the other hand, a report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs around the world by 2030.

So, transitioning to green jobs seems to be a logical move for those in HRLM occupations — and many are interested.

“More than one three-quarters of people who are in these high-risk roles are interested in moving into green jobs,” says Michael Burt, VP at The Conference Board of Canada, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

However, there’s a lot of “fear” around what that actually means, he said.

“These are jobs that people don't necessarily… know about. They don't know what types of employers they should be looking at. They don't know how stable the employment opportunities are in these jobs. And so there's a big [necessary] education component around helping people understand what these roles are, what the opportunities are, and what are the skills that they need to acquire to move into those roles.”

Recently, Ottawa introduced the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, which will create a council to provide independent advice on the most effective measures to encourage sustainable job creation.

Training key to transition to green jobs

Green career transitions exist for nearly all HRLM workers with one year of training, according to The Conference Board of Canada’s survey of over 500 Canadian workers and in-depth interviews with industry associations, labour representatives and other relevant experts.

With six months of training, 20.2 per cent of the theoretical 1,472 transition pathways can be realized. The number jumps to 57.7 per cent for those with one year of training and to 79.5 per cent for those with three years of training.

In the transition to Net Zero, it’s not just workers who are making the move. Employers, too, are transitioning, and they need to take an active role to ensure that they will find the green talent that they need, says Burt.

“Employers need to understand that in the green sector itself, you may have to be making investments to help upskill people to move into your sector. You can't necessarily assume the system is going to create the people you need; you may need to be part of the solution in terms of creating enough people with the skills that you need.”

There are two ways employers can be ready for the transition to Net Zero, says Burt: One is by simply creating roles that have that purpose. Another is by retraining workers.

“There are programs out there that, basically, you can put your people through… so you're building up your existing workforce to have skills around thinking strategically. But it depends a lot on what your business is.”

In 2020, the federal government invested $15.8 million in the NRCan Green Jobs Program to create green jobs and training opportunities for Canadian youth impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

One HRLM occupation is cashier, says Burt. And a well-planned transition can help them out.

“We expect to see declining employment in the cashier profession over the next 20 years as more and more automated options become available… [It is crucial for employers to be] designing programs that are set up to help people move from being a cashier to something else that has better employment prospects, and [assisting] with that transition so you don't end up having thousands of people losing their jobs, instead of thousands of people making the transition on their own from cashier to something else.”

How employers can move to Net Zero

To ensure business success in the move to Net Zero, employers must take a “life-long learning approach,” says Burt.

“Don't assume that you're going to be able to find all the skills you need in the marketplace. Think about how you can continue to invest in your people, to upskill them, to make them ready for whatever your needs are in the future.”

But employers should not be focusing solely on equipping their people with green skills, says Burt. Social skills are also important, he says.

“Those with high social, emotional skills, they are much better equipped to make transitions through their career, they’re able to adapt. 

“Those types of skills are really important in terms of helping people transition through different roles – or to try or adapt to different roles over the course of their career.”

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