Training for the green-collar jobs of tomorrow

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

By Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO

As the world seeks solutions to its environmental challenges, the demand for so-called green collar workers, those employed in the environmental sector of our economy, shows no signs of letting up.

Polytechnics are well-positioned to provide students with a variety of training in this burgeoning area.  Institutions such as Saskatchewan Polytechnic that focus on work-integrated learning and applied research offer students educations that include practical hands-on experience, which can make them more employable.  

For example, Saskatchewan Polytechnic has a partnership with Saskatoon Light and Power and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society Cooperative/Solar Co-Op Ltd. that led to the creation of one of Saskatchewan’s first power generation co-operatives.

The project enables the City of Saskatoon to generate a portion of its electricity from local, renewal resources, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions.   

While this is itself significant, there is another plus.  Students in our Mechanical Engineering Technology Program who have been involved with the project have come away with an enhanced, practical understanding of the operational characteristics of solar power.  Utilities and other entities that rely on solar energy are among the many industries that can benefit from such knowledge and experience.

On the applied research front, our student Dhinesh Priyasamy has been researching a way to clean water of harmful chemicals using laccase.  Laccase is a natural enzyme found in fungi.  While laccase can be produced synthetically, the challenge is producing laccase on a large scale. As this video shows, there are many potential applications to Priyasamy’s work.  Such innovative environmental research shows great promise.

Another Sask Polytech applied research project worth noting uses drones to provide environmental assessments of areas that are otherwise difficult to access. The Shoreline Health Assessments project examines the sediment, vegetation and other features of various shorelines to assess current environmental states and provides a report to property owners.  Assessments are typically completed by boat.  However, Natural Resource Technology student Blossom Lamalice and her Instructor Dave Halstead, have begun using drones to assess hard-to-access shorelines. “The drones help assess everything on the shoreline that we wouldn’t be able to do by foot,” says Lamalice.  “It also provides data that you can reference back to at a later date.”

Students who attend Sask Polytech often say they do so in order to secure meaningful employment in their chosen fields of study upon graduation.  Employers often tell us they value our graduates because of the hands-on experience they receive during their education.

Approximately 75 per cent of Saskatchewan Polytechnic programs offer a work-integrated learning component.  Work-integrated learning opportunities ensure graduates are ready to contribute on the job on day one. 

This is especially true in the emerging green collar jobs space. While oil and natural gas prices are relatively low (historically speaking), it is tempting to think green collar jobs are not all that important.  It is clear, however, that this is not the case.

Automakers around the world have announced plans to boost their line-ups on vehicles that don’t strictly run on fossil fuels.  In July, Volvo made headlines when it announced all its vehicles would be electric or hybrid after 2019.

We also know that sustainability is a huge issue in the construction sector as companies work to lower CO2 emissions.

The federal government has made it quite clear in Budget 2017 that one of its goals is to “help build communities that are cleaner and less reliant on sources of energy that pollute the air, harm the environment and compromise our health.”

That will not happen without the right jobs—green collar jobs.  That is why polytechnics such as Saskatchewan Polytechnic are so important, and will continue to make sure graduates have the right skills to help Saskatchewan and Canada build a green future.

Published October 2017.