President & CEO, ECO Canada
Untapped opportunities in the cleantech sector have the transformative power to help rebuild Canada’s economy cleaner and greener than ever before.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s predicted that the employment landscape will change dramatically, and while some areas will face significant downturns, others will thrive.
The trillion-dollar global cleantech industry is one of the areas that’s projected to increase considerably as a broad range of sectors — from resources and manufacturing to agriculture and construction — seek transformative solutions to rebuild the country’s economy. Canada has the potential to become a world leader if we can commercialize our research and development expertise in this area and ensure an adequate supply of skilled workers.
A thriving sector rife with opportunity
Canada is uniquely positioned in the growing sector of cleantech according to Kevin Nilsen, President and CEO of ECO Canada, a leader in environmental workforce development and labour market research. For close to 30 years, ECO Canada has worked with government, industry, and academia to help grow and support the environmental workforce in Canada by providing research, tools, curriculum support, wage funding, training, and labour market research.
“Cleantech is about finding ways to do things in a more sustainable way using fewer resources — whether it’s energy efficiency or reducing operational costs,” says Nilsen.
According to a February 2020 ECO Canada study, Cleantech Defined: A Scoping Study of the Sector and its Workforce, cleantech was a $1.2 trillion industry in 2015 and, prior to the pandemic, had been projected to reach $2.5 trillion by 2022.
Bridging the gap from ideas to action
However, there’s an important gap that needs to be addressed no matter how large the market ultimately becomes. “Canada is number one in the world in terms of innovation and ideas in the cleantech space. However, we rank 16th when it comes to capitalizing on those innovations and generating revenues,” says Nilsen. “In other words, we’re great at ideas, but aren’t doing as well commercializing them, so we’re not realizing the potential profits. This represents a significant untapped opportunity.”
While there’s already a skilled environmental workforce in place, there are 100,000 projected new jobs in the sector, which have the potential of contributing to Canada’s clean economic recovery and to Canada becoming a leader in cleantech. Nilsen points out that if Canada succeeds in capitalizing on the opportunity, “the labour market will succeed, businesses will grow, and the environment will be protected. It really is a win-win-win concept.”
Setting Canada up for success
Nilsen expects that a number of industries will be expanding their demand for cleantech expertise. Everything from mining, energy, manufacturing, forestry, and hydro to agriculture, construction, and transportation will present new opportunities.
Nilsen believes that now more than ever, Canada needs to focus on becoming a market leader in cleantech to ensure future liquidity and survival. “The companies thinking beyond COVID-19 will succeed,” he says. “To do that, we need to have available talent and the right people to support a new direction. The key is narrowing down what competencies are available and how they can be utilized — whether through skills transfer, new programs, or additional training.”
A successful cleantech strategy will lead to healthier bottom lines for companies by reducing costs, improving performance, reducing environmental impact, and ensuring sustainable use of natural resources, Nilsen notes. “We’re excited by the opportunity this investment could bring to the economy,” he says.