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By Colin Isaacs

The Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) held its annual Business + Policy Forum in May under the theme “Advancing Environmental Solutions in Increasingly Uncertain Times.” The opening keynote presentation and panel discussion were directed towards the theme of how to advance environmental solutions in the face of ever increasing political and economic unpredictability.

One might wonder what the committee planning the Forum was thinking of. Certainly the world is going through a period of political and economic unpredictability but the Canadian environment and clean tech sector would seem to be in and facing a relative boom not seen since this industry was identified as a significant industrial sector. At least two of the panel members seemed to agree that it is a good time, not a bad time, for those involved in the environment and clean technology (cleantech) sector.

Maybe the looming U.S. federal election and the possibly almost as close Canadian federal election pose some potential challenges but certainly no more than situations that have been faced without such alarmist rhetoric in the past. Certainly a crash of the Canadian economy would negatively impact the environment sector but such a crash is hardly unique to this sector and one has to ask whether the fear of a crash is justified. After all the Bank of Canada appears to be contemplating lower interest rates, not higher ones. Lower rates should surely be a stimulus to technology sectors including the cleantech sector.

Another common complaint from the industry is the challenge of government procurement. Procurement processes, in all levels of government, tend to give priority to established technologies with which the procurers are familiar rather than new and innovative technologies which may have a higher initial cost or uncertainty in return for lower long term costs. These characteristics of cleantech often tilt the government procurement process towards older technologies rather than newer cleaner technologies. However, these issues are hardly new and hardly qualify for the term challenging times. If the industry were willing to sit down to find an agreed upon structure for a better process than the common “lowest upfront cost bid wins” procurement process then most government departments would almost certainly be interested in modifying procurement processes accordingly.

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Other indicators support the notion that the sector is on a roll. The jobs board of Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada has 2,843 job vacancies listed Canada-wide in the environment sector. ECO Canada has funds available to help industry attract and retain trainees and internships. Climate, plastics, air pollution, remediation of water pollution, recycling, and even composting and anaerobic digestion are among the industries that are seeking employees to support their growth plans. Maybe what is surely a temporary shortage of skilled professionals is slowing the growth of the environment sector but with thousands of young people seeking cleaner greener jobs, and being willing to undergo the necessary skills development, the opportunity for growth of the industry would appear to be considerable.

An ECO Canada report – Green Futures: Harnessing Survey Insights to Power Talent Strategies – released in late May substantiates this analysis. The report provides the following key takeaways:

  • There is a significant surge in demand for professionals with expertise in sustainability.
  • Employers are actively seeking individuals with a diverse skill set encompassing technical proficiency, innovation, leadership, and a deep understanding of environmental issues.
  • Organizations face challenges in attracting and retaining qualified professionals. Factors such as limited awareness of environmental career opportunities, skills gaps, and insufficient recruitment strategies pose significant obstacles.
  • Collaboration between industry, academia, government, and other stakeholders to bridge the gap between talent supply and demand is important.

It would appear that ECO Canada has grasped the correct end of the challenge paradigm: it is not that the times are any more challenging, and indeed may be less challenging, for the environment and cleantech sector than for other Canadian industry sectors. Rather, it is that the sector seeks to escalate long standing problems like this procurement problem into major economic challenges. The sector would surely be better served if it chose to find ways of working with government on new protocols on such topics as procurement that resolved these problems to the benefit of the sector, the economy and the environment.

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The ECO Canada Job Board is available here.

Colin Isaacs is a chemist with practical experience in administration, municipal council, the Ontario Legislature, a major environmental group, and, for the past three decades, as an adviser to business and government. He is one of the pioneers in promoting the concept of sustainable development for business in Canada and has written extensively on the topic in the popular press and for environment and business platforms.

Featured image credit: Getty Images

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