Over the past three months we have had the good fortune of working with a team of diverse experts at the RenuWell project to build a training program that is a compelling example of the kinds of rapid upskilling programs we need to support fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to apply their knowledge and skills to the new net-zero economy. As learning designers and as people who value safe and secure jobs for Canadians, we jumped at the chance when Iron & Earth contacted us about building training resources that are (literally) at the nexus of transitions in our energy economy.
RenuWell Workforce Training Program – Overview
Iron & Earth is a worker-led not-for-profit empowering fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions. Together with Medicine Hat College (MHC), Iron & Earth is creating a training program for the fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to learn how to transform inactive wells with solar energy. During the 5-10 day training program, participants will learn how to inspect and prepare orphan O&G leases to install utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays. The ideal training participants are oil and gas industry professionals and Indigenous workers of any gender who are seeking to apply their knowledge and skills to build stronger, more sustainably powered communities across the country.
Two key considerations guided our approach to this course’s development. Project partners wanted to see a comprehensive course that provides a rationale for renewable energy creation and also introduces the technical knowledge and skills necessary to work in the renewable energy industry. In particular, the project partners wanted to offer un- or under-employed O&G tradespeople and professionals as well as members of Indigenous communities pathways to meaningful new careers building renewable energy production infrastructure that would also support local communities.
Early on, the team agreed that the pilot course should be a high-level experience that unites traditional teachings about the earth and the sun, the economic urgency for workforce capacity in both land reclamation and renewable energy production, and set the groundwork for the knowledge and skills to do this work safely. This course is unique in the way that we have structured the learning material to guide participants through the life cycle of a RenuWell project while also linking the training day to Indigenous practices that connect participants to the land and surrounding territory, and to each other through reflective activities. The environmental and economic elements in this process are also connected to acts of reconciliation: together, these can help lead participants to new kinds of work as well as fresh perspectives on how the energy industry can move forward.
This specification set our design team an intriguing challenge. The pilot training course needed to be broad enough to address the science and impact of climate change while also being practical enough to support safe and efficient construction sites. Our design team worked closely with subject matter experts (SMEs) to identify critical concepts and key skills employers would want to see in workers supporting both land reclamation and solar PV installations. Most importantly, project sponsors identified independent problem solving and teamwork as key performance outcomes for the training participants.
Our course design process focused on creating accurate, authentic training experiences for any interested learner, drawing on the decades of knowledge and field experience our SMEs brought to the table. Condensing a person’s career-long expertise into training materials is both an art and a science. Naturally (and necessarily), conversations with experts can easily expand beyond the scope of the task at hand. Throughout the development of this training course, however, we found that our SMEs’ expansive and deep understandings of their areas of work were balanced by the team-wide appreciation that participants are most employable if they can say with certainty that they have direct experience in the field inspecting leases and preparing them for solar installations.
We set out assuming the course would feature face-to-face lesson delivery in partnership with Medicine Hat College. Iron & Earth has previously delivered training in rural areas and facilitators can apply this expertise to ensure program access for those who may otherwise not attend such programs. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our course design team is rapidly developing materials to also support options for remote learning in early 2021. Following the delivery of the pilot program, we will be developing iterations of the course for larger-scale rollout in the future.
We are grateful to the Municipal Community Generation Challenge (a partnership between the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre and Alberta Innovates) for providing funding, and the Municipal District of Taber, Alberta for supporting the launch of the project.
Training for Transition
Canada’s energy workers have the skills needed to build the new, net-zero economy and kickstart Canada’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Iron & Earth is currently advocating for a National Upskilling Initiative to facilitate the rapid training and career support workers need to facilitate that transition and recovery. The RenuWell Workforce Training Program is a great example of how upskilling can empower workers to transform the energy system and find meaningful work along related career pathways. As this initiative grows, please check back with Iron & Earth for more information about training opportunities.
About the Author(s)
Andrea Hasenbank holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, focusing on working-class readers and the circulation of print in Canada. Prior to her graduate studies, she worked as a technical writer and editor for the NSERC Research Chair in Construction Engineering, working closely with both academics and industry professionals.
Between 2015 and 2019, she was a political advisor within the Notley government in Alberta. Currently, Andrea teaches courses on media history and the news at the University of Alberta and consults on learning design. She lives in Edmonton, where she is active with a number of community and worker-focused organizations.
Scott Meunier lives and works in Edmonton, Alberta. Growing up in southeastern Saskatchewan, his first memories include some sleepy mornings joining his Dad in the field where he worked as a battery operator. Scott’s first paying job included long hours swamping on a vacuum truck serving the oilpatch around their small town. And now, as a father himself, one of his biggest challenges is ensuring that his children also have sustainable ways to make a living for themselves.
Education is often a tool used to weather change well. Witnessing how the oil and gas sector’s volatility affected his family’s mental and physical wellness, Scott has focused his learning design work on empowering workers to thrive in uncertain markets. He is committed to supporting workers transitioning to careers in climate solutions so there are multiple ways for people to make a living producing energy both now and for generations to come.