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GHG Targets Mission Impossible: Who Will Retrofit Canada?

With each news alert declaring a new atypical drought, heatwave or storm, the potential severity of climate change comes to fruition. 2021 has tested Canadians and our infrastructure, and it is clear that we aren't doing enough to combat, mitigate and adapt to our destabilizing climate. Nations across the globe struggle with extreme weather events as the US administration declares that "no country will be spared."

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding

But all hope is not lost. The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (UN-COP26) provides the opportunity for all nations to come together this month to cement effective mitigation strategies. Canada was recently called a reliable partner in fighting climate change despite a consistent rise in our domestic greenhouse gasses (GHGs). While many believe the Canadian Government isn't doing enough to tackle climate change, the almost 800 lives lost in the 2021 summer heatwave show the danger of their negligence coupled with our outdated infrastructure.

Previous PBC articles discussed how passive buildings can tackle climate change while protecting occupants from poor air quality and dangerous temperature fluctuations. However, ensuring that all new buildings are completed to passive standards is a complex target that taps into many psychological, financial and legislative barriers. In addition, this solution does not address the inefficiencies in the existing Canadian building stock, where outdated infrastructure propels climate change and risks occupant health. We must perform deep-energy retrofits in all existing buildings across the nation. Although retrofitting Canadian buildings is challenging due to structural constraints, it is possible with ample finance, time and expertise. While one could argue that we are running out of time to act before reaching the international 2°C temperature target, labour shortages across Canada are a severe constraint for this essential project.

If followingCOP26, the Canadian Government allocates funds to perform nationwide retrofitting as suggested in the Canadian Roadmap to Retrofits, we are left with one question; Who will do this work?

Photo byMark Potterton

Labour shortages have been a longstanding issue in Canada. In fact, the Business Development Bank of Canada found that 64% of Canadian businesses say that labour shortages are limiting their growth. While these deficiencies are experienced across many sectors, the construction industry is particularly affected - a problem that has been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. For example, officials in British Columbia are forecasting a shortage of 23,000 construction workers by 2029. Similarly, prominent industry leaders fear a nationwide shortage of 100,000 trade workers by 2030. While the blame is sometimes placed on the stop-start nature of projects and investments, others acknowledge the disproportionate demand for trade workers, an ageing workforce, and a lack of interest from younger generations.

For general building projects, a lack of labour slows down construction while drastically increasing build costs. In Ontario alone, the impact of the skills gap is $24.3 billion in Gross Domestic Product and an additional $3.7 billion in foregone taxation. While this is less than ideal in a world where projects are expected to be completed faster and cheaper, it also poses significant hurdles for Canadian officials to address GHG emissions from the current building stock. For example, the retrofitting process required to raise a building's thermal and energy efficiency requires specialized knowledge and training. While the general shortage of qualified trade workers is problematic, even fewer builders are certified to complete retrofits to a deep-energy or passive standard. There are no official records to demonstrate this shortage, but industry professionals recognize the lack of qualified workers claiming it hinders such in-demand services.

Photo by Henry & Co

A few critical actions are required to ensure Canada has enough building professionals to complete widespread deep-energy retrofits. Firstly instilling green literacy and low-carbon skills in existing building professionals is an essential step in this process. While some organizations offer passive house standard training, further education for deep energy retrofits is currently provided by product suppliers or colleague interactions. But providing quality training isn't enough. Trade workers must be incentivized to pursue further education and compensated for their time and commitments. Ensuring accessible and financially viable professional development options are available across all provinces will help wage the current information gap but, unfortunately, will not fully address labour shortages in total. For this, direct action must be taken to introduce new workers to the various building trades.

This is easier said than done as millennials appear less interested in trade jobs than other generations. It's argued that such disinterest stems from the typically skewed societal perspective of labour jobs. Youth are routinely told to work hard in school and go to university to get a job they enjoy. This perspective instills the false narrative that trade jobs are undesirable and for uneducated people. In reality, these are highly skilled and in-demand positions that often pay very well and offset the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle. While trade jobs can live up to their reputation of being physically demanding, they can also be highly fulfilling.

Similarly, women, BIPOC and LBGTQ+ are severely underrepresented in the construction industry. They face underlying prejudice, are underpaid, lack advancement opportunities and are harassed in toxic workplaces. Reshaping the societal perspective of trade jobs begins in secondary education. We must support and foster youth's curiosity for trade work while providing ample apprenticeship and education opportunities. These efforts must be focused on underrepresented minorities to create a diverse, competitive and educated trade force.

Photo by Canva

Even after addressing the information gap in the current trade industry and tackling disinterest from youth, Canada will still face labour shortages. While the nation currently has express visa processes for skilled labourers, officials likely need to consider reducing the minimum qualif