ESC report reveals looming worker shortage

OTTAWA, CANADA - Canada’s Electricity Sector Council (ESC) released its 2008 workforce planning report, “Powering Up the Future”, and the results reveal a critical shortage of engineers and trades people that will have a significant effect on the industry’s support of electrical energy in Canada.

The electricity industry faces an immediate shortfall of 1,300 positions every year for the next three years, and must replace nearly 30 per cent of industry positions or approximately 25,000 people within the next six years to meet Canada’s energy demands, currently rising by one per cent each year.

“The electricity industry is unique from other industries in the educational and training demands it makes of its workers,” said Catherine Cottingham, Executive Director and CEO, Electricity Sector Council. “At a minimum, our jobs require a high school diploma or completion of a four-year apprenticeship, and the vast majority of the electricity industry’s positions need post-secondary education. This means that if the industry is to address these shortages in time through Canada’s learning institutions and immigration channels, we must act now. The ESC is actively bringing representatives from government, business, labour and education groups together to address this labour shortage so that our industry can continue to power Canada’s economy, and families and businesses have a stable and reliable source of energy for years to come.”

The electricity industry offers its workers job security, competitive compensation and enjoys excellent retention rates.

However, the supply of trained younger workers is declining and the electricity sector faces increased competition for their services as other industries face similar demographic challenges.

The report found enrolment in electrical engineering programs decreased by 10 per cent between 2003 and 2005, with all provinces (except British Columbia) reporting declines. Encouragingly, registration in electricity sector apprenticeship training programs increased by six per cent between 2003 and 2005.

The ESC continues to collaborate with industry, employers and educational institutions to draw graduates from electricity related programs into the industry through projects such as the Electricity First Work.

Retirement poses an immediate challenge to the stability of the electricity industry’s human resources. The ESC projects an annual retirement rate of 6.2 per cent by 2012, and the report shows that 28.8 per cent of the current electricity workforce is expected to retire within the next four years. Electricity transmission faces the greatest challenge, and will see an increase in retirements of over 750 per cent by 2009 and more than 900 per cent by 2012.

The ESC’s workforce development portfolio of projects works to offset this labour loss by identifying best practices in Canada and around the world, and developing sector-specific online tools such as templates and succession planning processes to help organizations prepare for the radical shift in the workforce.

In recognition of the impending labour shortages that put the electricity sector at risk, the workforce planning report recommends a number of important strategies to encourage recruitment of foreign-trained workers and traditionally under-employed groups such as women, the aboriginal community, immigrants and visible minorities. The ESC is targeting retirement vacancies as opportunities for the industry to better support diversity through programs such as its Foreign Credential Project and Connectivity Project.

To further this effort, the report urges industry and training institutions to develop targeted training courses for these groups to help facilitate entry into the industry. Other key recommendations include the development of a foreign credential recognition strategy to increase the integration of foreign trained workers into the electricity sector, and focused marketing and promotional activities to encourage youth and under-employed groups to consider a career in an electricity-related trade.

The Foreign Credential Recognition Project proposed a workforce development strategy to recruit and retain internationally trained workers in the electricity sector from high demand occupational groups, particularly from key trade occupations experiencing or expecting shortages.

Through its “Connectivity Project” the ESC is undertaking a national, industry wide consultation with key members of the electricity and renewable energy industry. The project will create cross-jurisdictional strategies and partnerships to support improved workforce development within seven regions across the country and will provide a national human resources strategy which will inform collaborative effort between jurisdictions and industry players as well as support future project directions for the Council.

“The workforce planning report’s labour supply/demand gap numbers serve as a wake-up call for the electricity industry, our government and educators,” said Tom Goldie, Chair, Electricity Sector Council. “The convergence of demographic forces and educational trends has created an urgent need for human resources the electricity sector hasn’t faced before, and addressing this shortage requires an immediate effort that the ESC is aggressively coordinating across the entire industry.”


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