July 30, 2007

Who will do the cleanup? asks environment industry report

The cleanup of Canada's contaminated sites will require a dramatic increase in the specialized workforce needed for this task, says a recent report from ECO Canada (Environmental Careers Organization). Its analysis of the labour requirements for site cleanup and remediation forecasts that between 2006 and 2009, there will be over 14,300 jobs that will need to be filled-and this is an extremely conservative estimate, assuming that only 28% of the $3.5 billion committed by the federal government is spent during this period, says the report, titled Who Will Do the Cleanup?

Between 2000 and 2003, says ECO Canada, the growth in the country's environmental workforce was 60% faster than that of the overall workforce, and the demand for qualified environmental workers continues to outstrip the supply. This fact, combined with major investments by federal and provincial governments in contaminated site cleanup (not to mention a growing movement within the private sector to clean up its own properties, whether voluntarily or to meet regulatory requirements), spells an impending severe labour shortage in the environmental sector.

ECO Canada's tracking of the environmental labour market shows that environmental employment rose by nearly 14% from 1999 to 2003. Its 2004 report forecast a growth rate of 16% between 2003 and 2007, equivalent to the creation of 27,000 new environmental positions.

Both specialized professionals and more general, trade-oriented workers will be needed to carry out site cleanup activities, notes the report. Skilled labourers and heavy equipment operators will be needed, as will site managers, engineers, geoscientists, chemists, agrologists, hydrogeologists, technologists, technicians and many others, all with contaminated site-specific health and safety training. Current demand within these and related occupations means the environment industry will have to compete with other sectors to fill contaminated site cleanup jobs.

On the supply side, says the report, there are about ten science-related programs being offered by universities in Canada; most new environmental personnel are graduates of these programs, but ECO Canada reports that graduation rates have been dropping in eight of these ten programs over the past several years. This trend could make the shortage of qualified environmental professionals even more acute as the site cleanup-related need increases.

Between 2006 and 2009, ECO Canada estimates that some 5,200 workers will be needed for cleanup activities on federal contaminated sites alone, and another 9,100 workers will be needed for non-federal sites. Non-environmental staff will make up almost 60% of this number, while the remaining 40% will require post-secondary education or training in science-based disciplines such as engineering, hydrogeology, etc, says the report.

Consequently, remediation labour demands will be competing with labour demands in sectors such as mining and petroleum, particularly in Canada's western and northern regions. Where, asks the report, will heavy equipment operators and labourers come from? And before cleanup work actually starts, who will train the professionals required to provide technical advise and scientific assessments for contaminated sites?

Having raised these issues and questions, ECO Canada contends that Canada has an opportunity to become a world leader in the education and training of skilled site cleanup workers, through an investment in technology and human resources and collaboration by federal, provincial and municipal governments, the private sector, educational institutions and Aboriginal organizations to develop programs. The report recommends that stakeholders consider how best to provide education, training and employment opportunities to build Canadian capacity in this area.

Other recommendations by ECO Canada focus on improving the quantity and quality of information relating to contaminated sites and remediation labour demand. The organization says a study should be done to document more precisely the skill and competency requirements for environmental assessment and remediation work. Also needed is a supply-side study and gap analysis to provide an understanding of the current labour supply and how that supply compares to projected labour demands.

Finally, the report recommends that federal, provincial and municipal governments consider developing a database of non-federal contaminated sites. It should be complete, reliable, comparable and flexible, so as to aid in a better estimation of labour requirements.

The report may be viewed on the Publications section of the ECO Canada Web site, www.eco.ca.

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