Training for a brighter future

A new generation of 21st-century workers has the resources to make the world a better place, writes Margareta Dovgal.

Margareta Dovgal, managing director of Resource Works, at the 2022 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase.

There's a perception that the world is a closed box.

A lot of people feel like advancement is needlessly closed off to those without family money or connections. Speaking from experience, I'm not sure that there are many places in the world like Canada where it could not be more untrue.

Doors are open where skills can be developed, and young people can finally get ahead.

Natural resources have always been a reliable, high-income employer in this country. Some of the highest average incomes today can be obtained in mining, forestry, and oil and gas, regardless of educational levels. These opportunities are actively helping advance reconciliation by furthering the economic development of many Indigenous communities across the country and turning poverty into prosperity and hope.

Now, we're in a period of significant economic change. That has a big impact on workers. And many opportunities are coming. To start, we're in the midst of a fundamental rethink by the federal government on its approach to natural resource industries.

A global energy crisis, triggered largely by the war in Ukraine and the world's oversized reliance on Russian commodities, has made clear how Canada's foundational industries can serve the world while advancing Canada's economic interests. With rampant inflation, this could not be more important.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is acknowledging the work ahead to "get to yes" on investment. Nothing can get built without major money, and if government wants the private sector to pony up, it needs to provide clarity and certainty.

Regulatory challenges need to be resolved, which the government acknowledges. I'll note that both federally and provincially, we've struggled to land major investments, even before COVID. This is the time for all levels of government to get to work.

Decarbonization challenges need to be addressed too. Climate change is happening, and it is costly. Essentially, I'm observing a harmonization of messages: net zero by 2050 on one hand and energy security on the other. What remains to be seen is whether the innovation needed will be deployed in time. But the same brilliant people who built Canada's oil sands from virtually nothing are now putting their attention to negative emissions technologies, including in the production of oil and gas products.

As we enable more investment and continue to lower emissions intensity and total emissions, more projects in natural resources should be approved. And the good news is that this is a response to a real global need. The world wants Canadian metals and minerals, oil and gas, and forest products.

More projects to responsibly develop these in-demand commodities mean more employment and training opportunities. We've seen that in spades through three major projects here in BC: Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink, and Site C.

It is a reliable principle that no amount of government support can replace market demand unless your market is the government. This is true for both large corporations and individuals.

People seeking to secure a good living for themselves and their loved ones need to put out to market a skillset for which someone is willing to pay. Sometimes the ability to produce or deliver a product the world wants is the skill itself, and they just have to be savvy entrepreneurs and business operators to grow and stay ahead of the competition.

Other times, the money, time and effort someone invests into his or her education is the value. Depending on the sector and how much money flows through it, that multi-year investment can yield $20 an hour or $75 an hour. The reality is that many jobs in and around natural resources have among the highest average incomes in Canada. That's money anyone can earn. And when it's spent, much of it goes right back into the economy, where it helps others.

That's essentially what major projects offer. This is especially true of the many, many workers — especially those with systemic barriers to employment like those living in remote Indigenous communities, with poor connectivity, or not having had the opportunity to develop essential skills like driving or knowing where to look for work or how to apply.

The reality is that through one pipeline project, Coastal GasLink, which feeds into the massive LNG Canada export facility being built in Kitimat, thousands of lives have been irrevocably touched for the better. Many who have never worked before have now picked up an essential skill and are set for long-term success. 

As I mentioned, the drive towards net-zero emissions is creating another set of opportunities too. Achieving both net-zero by 2050 and energy security will take engineers, technicians, communicators and more. The global economy is mobilizing to find solutions. What's needed is brain power applied to these big problems.

From welding pipe or driving a truck to engineering solutions for cleaner mining wastewater or responsibly managing a forest, these good-paying, family-supporting jobs are the backbone of Canada's economy.

And with shortages in many positions, it is a very good environment for workers right now. It's also a good opportunity for people to consider whether there is a line of work out there that they may enjoy that pays more than whatever it is that they're doing.

Nearly half of these openings will be filled by young people entering the workforce. About a third will be new immigrants to Canada. There has never been a better time to study, earn high-value knowledge and skills and go out into the world to make a difference.

Margareta Dovgal is the managing director at Resource Works and the Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase. Follow her on Twitter for more hot takes on natural resources and making the world a better, more prosperous place.

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