Ontario urged to invest in green construction skills training

Workforce Development

Ontario needs to build up “low-carbon” skills across the entire construction sector — from designers to tradespeople to engineers — says a report to be released Tuesday.

Conducted by the the Canada Green Building Council with input from colleges, trade unions, building owners and others in the industry, the report notes that the gap in skills is costing Ontario billions in economic losses and must be a focus given the efforts to reduce emissions.

The report, which focuses on the trades, urges training “on how to build efficient building envelopes, including framing, insulation, windows and glazing; install advanced mechanical systems, including heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as maintain energy efficient furnaces, boilers, water heaters, solar panels and geoexchange systems.”

Buildings make up almost one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the council says, making low-carbon building skills “critically important.” Under the Paris Agreement, the country has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

However, the report also notes that “it’s not only the trades who need to upgrade their skills and knowledge base. The entire construction ecosystem including designers, architects, engineers, building officials and building managers also need to add skills to successfully complete complex high-performing buildings.”

Akua Schatz, the council’s head of advocacy, says the province is at an ideal time to make changes given a large number of retirements are on the way.

Schatz adds that the Toronto area alone will see 150,000 job openings over the next decade and a half. “They are going to want to fill those jobs with trades that have the best skills possible.”

While the council’s report looked “more specifically at the trades, you cannot separate them from the other pieces of the ecosystem,” she said. “The work that they are doing is highly dependent on the designs they are given to follow, the engineering plans for how mechanical systems should be installed … it’s a more complete view of the construction industry” and the greening of the sector.

The report was commissioned by the previous provincial Liberal government, but the council will share it with the current Progressive Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford, Schatz said.

The Ford government pulled out of the cap-and-trade system and has launched a court challenge, and joined another brought by the Saskatchewan government, to fight the federal government’s carbon-pricing plans.

Schatz said the council’s report is looking at how to best promote energy conservation and reduction in buildings, and contains “a lot of message that align very well with the current government — the current government is interested in maintaining our competitive advantage, ensuring quality jobs for Ontarians, especially the middle class, and those activities that contribute to the GDP.”

It’s estimated that the overall skills gap in Ontario costs the province $24.3 billion a year, and a further $3.7 billion in lost taxes.

In B.C., she said requirements for “green” training are being written into building contracts, “specific requests for certain skill sets” on low-carbon issues.

Low-carbon buildings are important to Ontarians because “they want quality-built buildings,” she said. “Then they want to ensure that resources like energy are being used as efficiently as possible — that buildings are going to withstand the weather changes that are already upon us with climate change.”