Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada.  “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “  (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer.  A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario.  “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent.  The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”  

Most recently,  “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

Clean energy jobs as a transition destination

Released on June 3, Responding to Automation: Building a Cleaner Future  is a new analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre. It investigates the potential for clean energy jobs as a career transition destination for workers at high risk of losing their jobs because of automation. The clean energy occupations were identified from three areas: clean energy production, energy efficiency , and environmental management and the “rapid growth” jobs identified range from wind turbine technicians and power-line installers to industrial engineers, sheet metal workers, and  geospatial information scientists. Based on interviews with clean economy experts, as well as the interview responses from over five hundred workers across Canada, the analysis identifies  the structural barriers holding employers and workers back from transition:  Lack of consistent financial support for workers to reskill • Employer hesitancy to hire inexperienced workers • Current demand for relevant occupations which makes change less attractive • Lack of awareness around potential transition opportunities • Personal relocation barriers, such as high living costs in new cities, and family commitments. None of the recommended actions to overcome the barriers include a role for unions, with the burden for action falling largely on the individual employee. Only summary information is presented as a web document, but this research is part of a larger focus on automation, so it can be hoped that a fuller report will be published – if so, the partner group, Future Skills, maintains a Research website where it will likely be available.  

Other news about renewable energy jobs:

“Renewable Energy Boom Unleashes a War Over Talent for Green Jobs” appeared in Bloomberg Green News (June 8), describing shortages of skilled workers in renewable energy, mainly in the U.S.. It also summarizes a U.K. report which forecasts a large need for workers in the U.K. offshore industry, which is expected to be met by people transferring from the oil and gas sector.  

A report by the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts a growth of 3.3 million wind jobs worldwide by 2025, and suggests that offshore wind energy jobs could offer a natural transition for workers dislocated from offshore oil and gas and marine engineering workers. According to the analysis, in 2020, there were approximately 550,000 wind energy workers in China, 260,00 in Brazil, 115,000 in the US and 63,000 in India.  A related report, The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2021-2025 forecasts a large training gap: the global wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s growing onshore and offshore wind fleet. That report is available for download here (registration required), and is summarized in this press release.

And forthcoming:   Clean Energy Canada will release its research on the clean energy labour market in Canada on June 17.  Their last jobs report, The Fast Lane: Tracking the Energy Revolution, was released in 2019.

Recommendations for Canada’s high growth industries, including natural resources and clean technology

Innovation report 2018On September 25, the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development released a report:  The Innovation and Competitiveness Imperative: Seizing Opportunities for Growth,  with over-arching “signature” proposals in the consolidated report, and specific proposals in individual reports by six “high-growth potential” sectors: advanced manufacturing  , agri-food , clean technology , digital industries,  health and biosciences  , and resources of the future  .  These six groups had been identified by the Advisory Council for Economic Growth  , a body which has issued many of its own reports, including the 2017 reports,  The Path to Prosperity   and Learning Nation: Equipping Canada’s workforce with skills for the future   .

In this latest series of reports, the identified Sector groups were led by  “Economic Strategy Tables— which the government characterizes as “a new model for industry-government collaboration”.   Each “Table” consisted of a  Chair,  and approximately 15 industry experts, with consultants McKinsey & Company providing “fact-based research and analysis”.  The reports are unmistakably written by management/industry authors (replete with many references to “agility”,  “own the podium” and “sandboxes”). A deeper dive into two of the sector reports reveals very substantial recommendations, with common themes of best practice examples from other countries, Canada’s international competitiveness, Indigenous relationships, and  attention to workforce issues of skills gaps and diversity.

The Clean Technology Economic Table Report  proposes: “the ambitious, export-focused target of clean technology becoming one of Canada’s top five exporting industries, nearly tripling the sector’s current value for exports to $20 billion annually by 2025” –  a growth rate  of 11.4% per year on average.  The report makes recommendations under six categories, including financing, engagement  with Indigenous communities in partnership and co-development of clean technology initiatives, increased government procurement, regulation, and workforce issues. Greatest attention is given to the regulatory environment, with proposals for a “Regulatory Sandbox for Water Regulation” and a “Regulatory Sandbox for air quality and methane emissions regulation”.    “Ultimately, we will need as much innovation in our public policy tools as there is in technology to ensure progress on critical economic and environmental objectives.”  Regarding  workforce issues, the report recognizes that Clean Technology will compete for Scientific, Technology,  Engineering and Math ( STEM) skills, but highlights a particular shortage of soft skills required for entrepreneurship, business development, finance, advocacy, risk management and forecasting. It calls  for “work-integrated learning programs”, and better labour market data collection and dissemination. Without ever using the term “Just Transition”, it does call for “Opening streams of these programs for workers to re-skill”, and “Adding new eligibility criteria for these programs to promote an inclusive and diverse workforce”.

resources of the future coverThe  “Resources of the future” Table Report  examines the mining, forestry and energy industries; the tone is set in the introductory remarks which state: “While resource companies are committed to the highest environmental and safety performance, they are burdened with an inefficient and complex regulatory system that adds cost, delays projects and is not conducive to innovation.” Recommendations are set out in five thematic sections, including “agile regulations, strategic infrastructure, innovation for competitiveness, indigenous people and communities, and attracting and re-skilling talent.

The report notes the established issues of an aging and gender-biased workforce in natural resources and identifies automation and digital skills as a neglected and misunderstood  issue in the industry.  It proposes a “Resources Skills Council” which, notably,  would include labour unions, along with all levels of government, industry associations, universities and polytechnics.