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Upskilling for Canada’s Climate Transition

A navy blue, stylized maple leaf design with arrows pointing right graces the left side. To its right, the phrase "Upskilling for Canada's Climate Transition" highlights our commitment to preparing for environmentally sustainable advancements.

The Academy for Sustainable Innovation (ASI) and the Resilience by Design Lab (RbD Lab) in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, conducted the ‘Upskilling for Canada’s Climate Transition’ research project, funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program from September 2022 to September 2023.

This project aimed to identify the challenges and opportunities surrounding a pan-Canadian rapid upskilling approach for climate action leadership development.

Project Scope & Goals

In Canada and around the world, wildfires, floods, and other climate disasters indicate the impacts of climate change are accelerating. To significantly address these impacts and their causes, we must accelerate economic and social transformation toward a low-carbon, climate resilient, and socially-inclusive society. This transformation cannot happen solely through technology or policy development; it needs people: a climate-ready workforce that can demonstrate leadership in relation to a broad range of complex climate issues.

In order to get there, the workforce requires education and training providers, communities, professional associations, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector, all working together to build widespread capacity.

Targeted, short-duration programs offer cost-effective opportunities to rapidly equip workers with the necessary competencies to lead climate change solutions.

However, a scan of existing short-duration climate action courses and programs suggests that despite an increase of climate-related programming from post-secondary institutions and other training service providers, there are few unified standards to support such programs.

This gap results in learner and employer uncertainty, limited mobility of credentials across jurisdictions, and unclear connections between climate action competencies, job/role definitions, and defined training pathways.

When it comes to human capacity, a significant barrier exists between the competencies demanded by new climate action-related jobs and the opportunities for individuals to gain those competencies through defined education and training pathways.

This prompts the questions, 1) how do we equip the workforce with the competencies required to address climate change; 2) how might we create a standard approach to competency development across Canada to baseline shared understanding of our current context and possible solutions; and 3) how might we approach a pan-Canadian effort to upskill the workforce with climate action leadership capacities?

Project Outcomes & Key Learnings

Actionable recommendations:

1. Raise Widespread Climate Literacy and Promote a Value-Driven Approach

Motivating employers and workers to engage in and value upskilling and reskilling requires increased climate literacy, which includes not only a basic awareness of climate change, but also regionally specific risks and impacts (direct, indirect, complex, and cascading) resulting from climate change, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation basics, including potential or existing strategies, initiatives, and policies.

  • Launch nationwide climate literacy campaigns that are customized to target both general audiences (i.e., the general public) and sector- and profession-specific audiences.
  • Develop and support access to climate literacy courses and resources that are free, adaptable, and accessible, and that support enhanced and widespread climate literacy.
  • Organize a federated working group that includes provincial/territorial ministries of advanced education and training, and public sector education/training institutions to explore options, opportunities, and incentives to advance this agenda. This could potentially be led by the Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council.
  • Design and engage in campaigns that showcase the business and economic advantages of integrating climate action competencies and/or creating climate-related jobs. Frame outreach related to training, education, and employment as a positive opportunity to enhance one’s career and market prospects.

2. Convene Actors and Develop Frameworks to Enhance Consistency and Confidence

All key stakeholders affected by workforce development initiatives (governments, training providers, employers, and workers) will benefit from additional consistency, certainty, and transferability regarding (a) what specific short-duration training credentials represent, and (b) what specific competencies are needed (including how they might be assessed), both generally and for specific sectors or industries.

  • Create a national framework that clearly defines the different types of short-duration programs, supports credential mobility, and has mechanisms to recognize prior learning to further validate the new skills acquired.
  • Validate, refine, and publish a climate action competency framework that can be used to inform competency-aligned, climate action-related education, training, and initiatives.
  • Draw from and extend existing climate action competency frameworks to develop and publish sector-specific competency frameworks, prioritizing key sectors (e.g., engineering, planning, healthcare, forestry, accounting) using recognized processes and structures for open competency frameworks to support consistency across these frameworks.

3. Strengthen Collaboration, Alignment, and Governance

Effective climate action requires cross-sector, cross-region collaboration. When it comes to rapid upskilling and reskilling, this poses some challenges related to the distributed nature of education and training jurisdictions and governance. Challenges include how best to coordinate initiatives to maximize efficiency and unnecessary duplication, how to support the portability of credentials, and how to address gaps.

  • Explore and foster partnerships between post-secondary institutions, other recognized education and training organizations, employers, and government entities to create a coordinated approach to climate action capacity building. Whether the approach is to attempt to have a singular organizational driver/convener or multiple smaller drivers/conveners organized by region or sector, there are recommended characteristics described by the project team in the sections above.
  • Create longer-term funding mechanisms and opportunities that support such collaboration, both in determining needs, gaps, and credentials, and in the design and delivery of relevant training and education.

4. Continue to Identify Job and Competency Gaps

Workforce development research needs to continue, both through the lens of specific role/job vacancies, and by addressing gaps in climate action leadership competencies across sectors. To date, limited work has been done to identify and develop skills for climate adaptation – generally, and for specific sectors – and the project team recommends additional focus be placed on climate adaptation specifically.

  • Develop or leverage existing mechanisms to facilitate inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination at the national and regional levels, in order to support the identification of climate adaptation competency gaps, prioritizing those that are or will be in high demand regionally, based on climate risk assessments.

5. Develop and Deliver Sector-Specific and Role-Specific Expertise

Building a climate-ready workforce will require both general climate action competencies (knowledge, skills, attributes) and sector- and role-specific climate action competencies. There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to upskilling and reskilling initiatives, as different learners, professions, and employers have different capacities, needs, and preferences. Issues of accessibility include those related to cost, delivery mechanism/modality, timing, etc., as described in earlier sections.

  • Engage post-secondary institutions and other education and training organizations in a coordinated response to the job and competency gaps identified above. Ensure that programs address the unique challenges and nuances present for employers within various sectors and/or regions, and that programs offer value in career progression, mobility, and/or readiness for workers.
  • Ensure that all upskilling and reskilling initiatives, training, and education include a focus on developing competencies related to collaboration and engagement, including critical thinking, systems thinking, consensus building, conflict management, communication, and effective decision-making in contexts of complexity and uncertainty.
  • Offer financial support (e.g., bursaries, training grants such as the StrongerBC Future Skills Grant or the Canada-Ontario Job Grant) or proactively subsidize courses, to support more equitable access. This is particularly important for early career professionals, career explorers, Indigenous and BIPOC populations, as described in sections above.
  • Offer incentives to post-secondary institutions and other education and training organizations for the development of climate action-focused credentials. This could and likely should involve both federal and provincial government incentives.

6. Support Workforce Resilience & Health

Climate change will not only require upskilling and reskilling, it will also require attention to how climate impacts affect worker health and resilience. Climate change has been identified as the number one health threat of our times, and proactively supporting workers’ health and resilience is a critical component of upskilling and reskilling.

  • Develop a national strategy for supporting worker health and resilience that includes identifying key climate-related health risks in specific sectors (e.g., impacts of heat on outdoor workers; increased psychological stress and physical health issues related to direct and indirect climate impacts).
  • Design and provide free access to general (all workers) and sector/role-specific education and training based on assessments that address health impacts and enhance stress tolerance, increase flexibility, and promote resilience – qualities that all workers will require as climate impacts their work and their lives directly and indirectly. Modules could be made available with Creative Commons licenses such that they can be integrated into existing programs and initiatives.

Learn more about this project by reading our full research report:

Review short-duration training opportunities in Canada focused on climate action and leadership, curated as part of this research project:

Published blogs from this research project

Meet the team

Meet the masterminds behind the Upskilling for Canada’s Climate Transition research project. Through this partnership, the Academy for Sustainable Innovation and the Resilience by Design Lab united their best people to learn more about how to support workforce development for climate action in Canada.

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Robin Cox

Dr. Robin Cox advances leadership in climate and disaster resilience. Drawing on design thinking and open-learning approaches, Cox is cultivating climate action leadership through an innovative open-learning master program, the M.A. in Climate Action Leadership (Royal Roads University – RRU). As the Director of the ResilienceByDesign lab at RRU, Robin works with an interdisciplinary and multi-sectorial team of faculty, students and external partners (government, business, academic) to conduct regional, national and international climate adaptation research and capacity-building projects. Climate action workforce development is central to this mission and includes developing a Climate Action Competency Framework and the more recent Climate Resilience Competency Framework; a range of climate adaptation focused, not-for-credit professional development courses and micro-credentials; and a recently awarded contract with Environment and Climate Change Canada to design a Climate Adaptation Fundamentals course for federal public sector workers.
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Vivian Forssman

Vivian Forssman works at the nexus of climate change capacity-building, applying her experience in learning design, digital knowledge management, web and learning management platforms, and social media to address the skills gap in the climate crisis. She works with Dr. Robin Cox, Director of the Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Roads University (RRU), implementing various initiatives. Her most recent accomplishment was management of Adaptation Learning Network, where she delivered professional development courses and micro-credentials on climate change adaptation through several BC universities; and co-developed a climate adaptation competency framework supporting skill development for individuals and organizations in a climate-changed reality. From 2013 – 2017 Vivian was Director, Centre for Teaching and Educational Technologies at RRU; prior to RRU she held similar roles at UBC, SAIT Polytechnic, and BCIT. Her background in leading teaching and learning centres opened doors to international consulting assignments, advising post-secondary institutions on best practices in leading effective production and service units for online learning and academic development. She has taught continuing studies and graduate courses at UBC, SFU, RRU, and University of Saskatchewan. Vivian holds an MBA from University of Cape Town. From 2004-2008 she undertook doctoral research on online communities-of-practice, through Simon Fraser University.
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David Porter

Dr. David Porter is principal consultant at DP+Associates, located in North Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a long-time advocate for the benefits of adapting new technology and transformational learning practices for delivering educational opportunities, and has been involved in online, open and distance learning since the 1990s. David was the CEO of eCampusOntario from 2016-2020, leading initiatives across Ontario’s 45 universities and colleges to innovate in the technology-enabled learning space and explore new ideas such as micro-credentials to provide nimble pathways to learning and skills training. David was formerly Executive Director of BCcampus, where he and his team engineered Canada’s first government funded open textbook program, a leading-edge development in Canadian higher education in 2012. He has also worked as an Associate Vice-President of Educational Support and Innovation at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, as Dean of Innovative Learning at Humber College, and most recently as Senior Adviser – Higher Education at the Commonwealth of Learning. David has also worked as a project leader and consultant for international open and distance learning initiatives, including projects in Mongolia, Vietnam, and India. In 2018, he was awarded the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education’s (CNIE) Leadership Award. On October 9, 2019, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, for his work in innovating teaching and learning practices that employed technology-enabled learning.
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Tamara Connell

Tamara is a strong, creative, and entrepreneurial leader with extensive experience in sustainability and social innovation. She has 20+ years of adult education experience and designed and delivered courses, programs, and other custom engagements all around the world. Tamara’s previous roles include Program Director in the Master’s of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability program at BTH in Sweden, Director of Sustainability Learning Programs at The Natural Step Canada, and Associate Director of Education & Training at RADIUS SFU. She has also run her own successful consulting company for the past 10+ years, focused on facilitation, stakeholder engagement, and strategic planning. Tamara regularly teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses related to sustainability, social innovation, and leadership, most recently at Simon Fraser University. Tamara holds a BSc in Environmental Planning, and a Masters in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability. She is also a certified Associate Coach with Integral Coaching Canada, and a certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods facilitator.
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Taylor Stimpson

Taylor is a passionate problem-solver and environmentalist who works to drive systems change toward a more climate-positive, equitable, and socially-just future that is sustainable for people and the planet. She brings over 6 years of experience researching & developing sustainable materials from renewable resources, from both an academic and private start-up lens. With more than 5 sustainability related micro-credentials, Taylor believes in lifelong learning. Taking inspiration from biology in her approach to solving challenges, she demonstrates that nature is our greatest teacher, and extends this perspective to her role as a sessional instructor for McMaster University’s Engineering & Society undergraduate program. As a McMaster alumna, holding a B.Eng & Society and M.A.Sc in Chemical Engineering, Taylor brings new perspectives to the way we design, engineer, and teach about our shared future, one that works with the planet, and not against it.
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Ali Kazmi

Ali Kazmi is a researcher for both the Academy for Sustainable Innovation and the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Ontario. Ali’s research focus is on the development of accessible and robust online education platforms, with an emphasis on micro-credentialing, industry alignment, and formal accreditation. In past projects, he has developed online learning badges for the Inclusive Design Research Centre’s We Count Project, which enable earners to showcase their proficiency in the growing fields of AI, data systems and inclusive data practices as well as other skills. As a former staff member and user of the University of Toronto’s Accessibility Services, Alistrives to keep his research and professional contributions connected to EDDI (Equity, Diversity, Decolonization, Inclusion) principles and advocacy to better serve persons with disabilities and other communities on the margins.

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