Fewer young people choose careers in the electricity sector than other industries in part because they don’t know what types of opportunities it offers.
That is one of the findings of a survey of 1,500 18- to 36-year-olds recently polled by Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC), a non-profit group that conducts labour market research in the electricity and renewable energy industries.
“Fundamentally, what this study told us, that it is less to do with the fact youth don’t want to work in electricity than it is that they don’t know about it,” says Mark Chapeskie, director of programs with EHRC.
Called Generation Impact: Future Workforce Perspectives, the survey found many respondents would be open to careers in the sector which includes trades, technical and professional fields in industries such as nuclear, hydro-electric and renewable energy.
Chapeskie says there is urgency to enlightening young people to the job possibilities because about 20 per cent of the workforce is expected to retire over the next five years and anecdotal evidence suggests that retirement timeline will accelerate for some of those workers because of COVID-19. Only four per cent of the 106,000 workers in the electricity sector in Canada are less than 25 years old. By comparison, 14 per cent of the overall Canadian labour market is under 25, he points out.
“We have a labour market need broadly across a number of different occupations and we are not attracting enough youth to the sector,” he states.
Chapeskie says the study found almost no respondents indicated they wouldn’t want to work in electricity. The study responses were separated by gender, region and age brackets.
It found while the Millennial and Gen-Y respondents want work/life balance and to contribute to the betterment of society, they place a high priority on jobs that pay well.
Along with good pay, work safety, benefits and employment security are among their top concerns. “These are all things that this sector provides in spades,” says Chapeskie.
While the majority of Canada’s power is from hydro, in Ontario about 60 per cent is from nuclear energy and both are carbon-free.
Forty per cent of the sector is comprised of trades, 20 per cent is technicians/technologists, 20 per cent engineers and the remainder is administration/business.
He adds that technological change is coming fast and is contributing to a growth of the sector, translating to more jobs in areas such as renewable power.
Currently most workers in the sector are men but Chapeskie says the industry needs to improve hiring initiatives to draw women, different ethnicities and people of varying abilities.
“One thing we know is that you don’t see yourself in an industry that poses a barrier, even if it is a psychological barrier that you are not aware of.”
Chapeskie adds among the messaging themes to promote is safety and the voice needs to be from associations such as the EHRC, the Canadian Electricity Association, the Canadian Nuclear Association and other national groups representing power generation.
“There are misperceptions about how safe it is to work in the electricity industry,” he says.
Through a student placement program called Empowering Futures, the EHRC is investing in youth recruitment and also has training programs geared to underemployed and Indigenous youth in rural and remote communities.
Chapeskie also suggests that if the sector could develop career messaging to be included in curriculum planning for Grades 6 to 8, “it could go a long way to influencing awareness” of various fields.
The study was conducted just before the coronavirus lockdown in March. The pandemic might have a positive impact on the attractiveness of the sector because many of the jobs are in rural locations.
“We’re looking at a once-in-a-lifetime potential migration shift from our urban centres back into rural communities,” he adds. “We don’t know if that is going to happen but if that is the case it solves the urban/rural issue.”