With the growing number of renewable energy projects taking hold in Saskatchewan, the demand for skilled labour in the sector is increasing fast.
Meeting the Demand
Saskatchewan Polytechnic is addressing the training challenge. Currently, the Sask Polytech School of Mining, Energy and Manufacturing prepares students for work in the flourishing energy alternatives sector. The school’s Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) diploma program covers renewable energies such as hydropower, wind, solar, energy storage, fuel cells and carbon management, giving students skills and knowledge they need for the renewables job market. Other programs at the School are reviewing their curriculums to ensure renewable energy theory and practical training is included.
Sask Polytech also has the Hannin Creek Education and Applied Research Centre near Candle Lake—used for research in a variety of fields, including low-flow and slow-flow hydroelectricity generation. “The research being conducted there is important for developing power generation on small water sources,” says Jamie Hilts, dean of School of Mining, Energy and Manufacturing.
Recently, Sask Polytech also signed a contract with Star Blanket Cree Nation for a short-term solar panel installation course through the School of Continuing Education. When their course is complete, students will have the skills needed for solar panel installation work.
Sask Polytech is also seeing an increased interest in energy alternatives from both learners and industry. “Students are looking for education in the renewable energy sector, and the industry is looking for those skill sets,” says Hilts. “We’re moving as fast as we can to meet the demand and looking at the future to be ready for increasing demand for technologies coming soon—such as nuclear energy with small modular reactors, and geothermal energy taking hold here, too.”
In 2017, a partnership between Saskatoon Light and Power (SL&P), Saskatchewan Environmental Society Cooperative/Solar Co-Op Ltd. (SES-SESSC) and Sask Polytech, established a power generation co-operative at the Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Demonstration Site in Saskatoon. Part of the Landfill Gas Collection and Power Generation System, Sask Polytech uses this site to teach students about solar energy and electricity generation.
In the Energy Heartland
In southern Saskatchewan, Southeast College has recognized the opportunity for training, or retraining, learners in renewable energy. “As Saskatchewan moves to renewable energy, we know that skilled training in the sector is needed,” says Jody Holzmiller, vice-president, training at Southeast College. “This is especially true for the southeast as the region moves away from coal.” The College is working closely with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to ensure training needs are met as employees transition away from coal mining. “Right now, we are in the preliminary phases of identifying what those workers are interested in for retraining,” says Holzmiller. “We are working closely with them and their training folks to ensure we have the right programs at the right time.”
Southeastern Saskatchewan is still early in the transition, so it is hard for the college to predict what programming will be required in the coming years. “Not yet fully knowing what will replace coal makes it a bit difficult to focus on one specific area,” says Holzmiller. “However, regional colleges are flexible and nimble. We’re confident that whatever learners and industry needs, we can provide it at Southeast College.”
Southeast College has also introduced a new area of study in 2021—an industry accredited Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) program—that is relevant to the renewable energy sector as well as many others. Working with the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, the College developed the program that includes new state-of-the-art simulation training. “The simulation will provide future operators an opportunity to become very familiar with equipment operation all while keeping them and their work team safe,” says Holzmiller. “It also allows the program to be more cost-effective.”
As for future programming, Southeast College is in the process of developing its 2022/2023 program plan. “We’re looking forward to what may be new and exciting on the lineup as a result of that process.”
Southeast College offers full and part-time technical trades training, including Continuing Care Assistant (CCA), Level 1 & 2 Electrician, Heavy Equipment Truck and Transport Technician (HETT), Hairstylist, Practical Nursing (PN), Educational Assistant (EA), Office Administration, Industrial Mechanic, Welding, Powerline Technician and more. The College is also a major safety training provider within the region—ensuring employees are properly trained to remain safe at work.