This op-ed was initially published in the Globe and Mail on February 23, 2017.
Since his government’s election, Prime Minister Trudeau has frequently reminded Canadians that economic development and fighting climate change are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, create new opportunities for growth.
This transition to a greener, more ecologically-minded economy is indeed taking shape, with new technologies and processes reshaping activities in almost all sectors. Our cars are more fuel efficient than ever, factories are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, buildings are more energy efficient, renewables are booming, recycling is a given and reducing waste has become a daily concern, both for financial and ecological reasons. These changes are implicating and impacting Canadians in every aspect of their lives, including in the workplace, which means that the education system has to respond and adapt to new expectations – and anticipate the needs of tomorrow.
Canada’s colleges and institutes have shown time and again that their greatest strength is their ability to react quickly to new market opportunities, meeting both the demands of employers and the needs of students. This has been particularly evident in fields such as environmental sciences, resource extraction, construction, and clean energy where rapid shifts have occurred, creating new jobs that did not exist just a few years ago.
By maintaining close ties with employers and experts in their communities, colleges and institutes are able to create and adjust programs quickly in response to emerging trends and technologies. This approach to program design is in the college DNA and ensures that graduates are ready to hit the ground running in their chosen professions. It also ensures that mid-career learners looking to update their qualifications or re-skill so they can transition to exciting new opportunities are prepared for the growing focus on environmental sustainability.
In addition to training the people who will create and sustain the green economy, colleges and institutes are also research leaders, actively involved with industry, small business and community partners in forging the new processes, technologies, practices and services required to improve environmental sustainability.
As you will read in the following pages, their work is helping Canada tackle many of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. From energy efficiency and renewable energies, to sustainable farming practices and resource extraction, colleges and institutes play a critical role in finding solutions and facilitating their implementation.
For example, Red River College has helped test electric buses and develop a charging system adapted to Manitoba’s cold winter climate. Conducted in partnership with Manitoba Hydro and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, this project will be essential for the deployment of a fleet of zero emission transit buses in the province. Meanwhile, Fleming College’s Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment worked with the Murrenhil Corporation to develop and test new absorptive pads designed to improve the containment of oil spills, and which have since made their way to market.
Colleges and institutes are also leading by example at an institutional level, acting as early adopters of many new technologies, investing in green infrastructure, and building some of the greenest campuses in the world. Thanks to all their efforts, colleges and institutes are helping Canada lead the way to a green economy where every action counts towards protecting our environment and ensuring the well-being of future generations.
President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada