Canada’s transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 is a national priority. However, it remains unclear which pathway Canada will take to get there. One landmark analysis highlighted 62 routes Canada could take to reach net-zero, depending on the choices we make around different technologies or policies to reduce emissions.

Unfortunately, without a clear pathway, it is difficult to ensure skilled workers are ready to build the net-zero projects set to drive clean growth in the coming years. Yet, it is still important that policies, programs and education curricula plan ways to ensure workers have the skills needed to not only advance Canada’s climate goals, but ensure they can benefit from clean economic growth.

But how can we guarantee workers in industries like manufacturing, energy and construction gain the necessary skills if we cannot predict with certainty how Canada will reach a net-zero future?

One approach is to identify the common skills needed across a range of potential net-zero futures and to ensure skills planning, development and training around these shared skills occurs. This can help prepare a more resilient workforce that can handle uncertainty and disruption.

New analysis from the Smart Prosperity Institute, supported by the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute, builds uncertainty into the equation to support more resilient skills planning and policies for all in Canada.

The Jobs and skills in the transition to a net-zero economy: A foresight exercise report models three futures for a net-zero Canada and compares what is common across all of them in order to see where job growth is expected and which skills will be most in demand.

One scenario involves significant use of carbon capture and sequestration from Canada’s resource sector, while another involves much stronger reliance on electrifying how we power our cars, cities and homes to meet our emissions targets.

The third, somewhere in between, incorporates a larger use of carbon offsets than the other scenarios. None of these paths is meant to be predictive, but rather illustrative of the choices Canada could make in the coming decades.

Across all futures, there are elements in common that can ensure workers acquire necessary skills for a net-zero transition. Every pathway to this future leads to economic growth. There are also similarities across pathways regarding the sectors and regions where job growth is expected.

Industries like manufacturing, construction, transportation and low-greenhouse gas emissions energy (such as hydrogen and biofuels, alongside carbon capture and storage), see job growth across all paths. Meanwhile, both fossil fuel and resource sectors decline across all pathways.

However, small differences between futures at a national level can mean significant changes for the bodies responsible for training and education in regions and communities. This makes it all the more important to identify skills like active learning and digital literacy, both technical and non-technical, that will be in demand across all futures. Importantly, skills building in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is only part of the picture.

Non-technical skills like critical thinking, complex problem-solving and judgment and decision-making are increasingly essential across all industries in all paths and are critical to driving innovation and adoption of new processes.

How can we ensure workers in manufacturing, energy & construction transition if we can't predict how Canada achieves a net-zero future? ask @pedrobarataTO @fsc_ccf_en, @CukierWendy @TorontoMet & John McNally @SP_Inst. #cdnpol #CleanTech

Another key finding is that no net-zero future requires building a clean economy workforce from scratch. Today’s workforce already has the foundation for future skills. The skills of today’s tradesperson are not likely to be completely transformed (although learning additional skills and retraining in some capacity will continue to be required).

What will change is how these current skills are applied as new technologies, processes and services are developed and deployed. It bears repeating what is often said in our research: collaboration across industry groups, businesses, education and skills institutions, labour and governments will be essential for effective transitions that support workers and drive growth.

Uncertainty about the future need not lead decision-makers to fail to act at all in addressing the skills challenge. When building Canada’s net-zero future, embracing uncertainty can help develop skilled workforce policies that serve everyone in the country.

In the decades to come, the path will not be linear or certain, but we do know a net-zero future that is good for citizens and the environment can lead to economic growth and will require a growing skilled and innovative workforce.

Pedro Barata is executive director of the Future Skills Centre (FSC).

Wendy Cukier is the academic director of the Diversity Institute and the academic research lead for FSC.

John McNally is the program director for clean and resilient growth for Smart Prosperity Institute, a national clean economy think tank.