Canada’s commitment to a Net Zero future is in the spotlight these days, but one crucial aspect is often overlooked: the workforce needed to get us there. If we’re going to completely reshape and transform industries, developing sustainable technologies will not be enough—humans will need to take the lead.
RBC’s latest report, Green Collar Jobs, broke down what’s needed for this transition to accelerate and found that some 40% of new jobs in the trades, transport, and equipment occupations will need an enhanced skillset. And it’s businesses of all sizes that will need to spearhead the skills revolution.
“Much of the responsibility for retraining will fall to Canadian businesses, especially those developing the green technologies that will drive the climate transition,” said RBC Economics’ Managing Editor Naomi Powell, and co-author of the report.
One Canadian firm that’s upgrading the skills of its 6,000+ workforce is Oakville-based Samuel, Son and Company. The family-owned firm started in 1855 as a hardware and metals import/export business. Today, its largest customer is none other than EV maker Tesla. Its CEO Colin Osborne joined us for the latest episode of Disruptors, titled “The Green Collar Revolution,” to share how it is teaching its workforce to integrate new technologies such as artificial intelligence and mechatronics.
Employers such as Osborne are facing the difficult task of finding skilled labour and can no longer rely solely on schools to nurture talent. As Osborne told us, they have to find channels to partner with universities or simply train their own people. “In the case of an evolving industry like additive [manufacturing], we really just rely on taking smart people out of university and train(ing) them ourselves,” he said.
“It’s one of the frustrations of manufacturers; that we always seem to lag in the academic community and the university community—the ability to seed those types of skills so that we’re ahead of the curve. We always seem to be scrambling to catch up,” Osbourne said.
The talent challenge also presents an opportunity for workers. Between 235,000 to 400,000 new jobs will be added in fields where enhanced skills will be critical. The Net Zero transition will demand a reshaping and enhancing of existing skillsets, which could mean, for some jobs, on average 25% to 30% of tasks will change.
One thing is clear: as policies and technologies change, Canadian workers must be agile enough to respond and adopt a mindset of constant learning. And employers will become more important than ever in training the workers of the future.
“If we’re complacent and we don’t adjust to what those [green] trends are, we’ll obviously not survive it,” said Osborne.
Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hey, it’s Theresa. We all know by now that lowering carbon emissions is one of the biggest challenges of our time. And it’s of paramount economic importance over the next decade. But here’s the unspoken truth for all the talk about regulation and technology, talent actually has to be at the heart of any strategy to achieve Canada’s new target of cutting emissions by at least 40 percent by the end of the decade. Research shows as early as 2025, Canada could be short roughly 30000 environmental workers, those that are employed by green companies or engaged in green work. So what do we need to do? We need to capitalize on the upcoming generation’s interest and purpose. I’m a millennial Gen Z after me. They want to make sure that they are having an impact more so than others and past generations, and there’s no greater purpose than saving the planet right now. As we move toward net zero, a big shift in mindset is definitely required. But so too is a big shift in skill sets. And that’s the focus of a new RBC report called Green Collar Jobs The Skills Revolution. Canada needs to reach net zero. Some of the numbers in the report are pretty jarring. 3.1 million Canadian jobs, or 15 percent of the labor force, is going to be disrupted over the next decade as the country transitions towards a net zero economy. Eight of 10 major economic sectors are going to be affected as the workforce adapts think transportation, energy, manufacturing, natural resources, agriculture. This is the lifeblood of Canada’s economy, and these changes initially are going to affect highly paid, highly skilled workers more dramatically and more than others. My colleague Naomi Powell, who is the managing editor for RBC Economics and Thought Leadership, coauthored the green collar jobs report and as she explains, upskilling is at the heart of this shift.
Speaker 2 [00:01:50] The net zero transition will place new demands on the workforce, especially when it comes to upskilling or expanding existing skill sets. In the beginning, that demand will be felt most by highly skilled, highly paid workers. Managers in engineering and architecture, for example, are already seeing over 50 percent of their work tasks change. But as the transition continues, more jobs will be affected. Logistics people will need to look at the environmental impact of shipping routes. Accountants will need to audit emissions, and mechanics will need to transition from internal combustion engines to battery powered vehicles. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the pace at which all of this will happen and how fast workers will need to upskill. But one thing that’s become clear is much of the responsibility for retraining will fall to Canadian businesses, especially those developing the green technologies that will drive the climate transition
Speaker 1 [00:02:38] despite the costs involved. And yes, the disruption. It’s undeniable that this green collar revolution is creating some pretty great opportunities. One is brain gain. A highly skilled Net-Zero workforce could establish Canada as a top destination for green investment and international talent. Not to mention the new industries that could be created, the new jobs that will see a combination of new and old disciplines innovation that we probably can’t even dream of today. But these opportunities can only be seized if we give workers the tools they need to succeed, and that’s a big if. This is Disrupters, an RBC podcast. I’m trying Teresa Dome. In this episode, we’re looking at how the shift to carbon neutrality is affecting Canada’s workforce, particularly in the skilled trades. Our guest today is no stranger to the challenges of greening a blue collar company. Colin Osborn is CEO of Oakdale based Samuelson and Co., a global metals and industrial products giant. Serving buyers like Boeing and the U.S. military. And its largest customer is none other than Tesla. Samuel has been around longer than Canada has been a country, in fact, and today it’s rebuilding its 6000 strong workforce for the demands of a net zero economy. Colin, welcome to disrupters.
Speaker 3 [00:04:08] Thank you so much. Really glad to be here.
Speaker 1 [00:04:10] A. Samuel is a major player in the green steel supply chain. You buy green steel from suppliers like Algoma, fabricate the bra metals materials and then sell those green parts to your customers across the defense, aerospace and auto sectors. Why was it necessary for you as a parts manufacturer to green your products and operations?
Speaker 3 [00:04:30] Well, I think when you look at a company like this, which is pretty incredible, as you mentioned, one hundred and sixty six years old started before electricity and like before a light bulb. I think the only reason that survived one hundred and sixty years before I came along was by innovating and constantly seeing trends in the market or seeing trends in the uses of metals or materials, and then adapting or being ahead of those curves. You know, the reality is I’m the sixth CEO in 160 years. I don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t keep this company going. So a big part of our view on sustainability, aside from just carbon footprint and reduced energy, is really trying to assess market trends and position our company in a way that that it can take advantage of those trends and continue to grow and continue to be profitable and continue to sustain good jobs. And that’s really the gist of it. Two of our core values as a company, we have five, but two of them are agility and courage. And that really just speaks to the the need to constantly assess the market, constantly adapt to the market and have the courage to go after it and make some mistakes, but ultimately hopefully build a very strong, sustainable business.
Speaker 1 [00:05:30] Agility and courage are such timeless fundamentals of running your business. And as we look forward, the share of electric vehicles in Canada is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade, bringing with it expanded infrastructure. And my partner and I are a Tesla driver as I’m personally so excited about having more charging options and to see EVs become more mainstream. But as a manufacturer and a key player in enabling this reality, what is at the top of your mind and preparing for this increase in demand?
Speaker 3 [00:06:00] I think what’s top of mind, honestly, is positioning our product in our service offering in a way that allows us to service that change. We are metals, primarily a metals company. We process four million tons of metals we buy from all over the world and almost every customer we have, literally every customer out of 23000 customers uses metal in some way. So if we’re complacent and we don’t adjust to what those trends are, we’ll obviously, you know, not survive it. So I think as a company, what we’re trying to do and before my time, we’re investing in areas where we see this greening of the economy, taking off and driving demand. We have a business that makes components for internal combustion engines. You know, that’s not going away tomorrow or next week, but over time, we expect that to be a declining market. So if we don’t change our positioning of our product offering and our service offerings, that wouldn’t be a great outcome. So I think the big driver for us, too, is to assess those trends, look at the products and services and capabilities that we have and position ourselves to help our customers take advantage of the greening of the economy.
Speaker 1 [00:06:58] Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned your customers and I’m curious, what’s that relationship like? How much do they steer conversations on sustainability?
Speaker 3 [00:07:06] It’s becoming more prevalent. For example, the investment we made in aluminum blanking seven, eight, nine years ago, Tesla was already making a very small volume of cars, but there was no Rivian. There was no lucid who we also supply. So I think in many cases, it’s been our internal people looking at trends that they see and trying to get ahead of those trends as opposed to customers pushing us. But I would say now, Theresa, more and more customers are asking us about sustainability, not just in the product, not just in our carbon footprint, but even in our supply chain. You know, going all the way back through the very complex supply chain that we operate and say, How do you know you’re operating that supply chain and is green a way as possible? And that’s very complicated. And I see it’s starting to evolve where customers are actually insisting that you can disclose and track and monitor and improve if you’re going to bid on their business. So that conversation is happening more and more, especially with sophisticated OEMs, the Hondas, the Boeings, the Toyota as the BMW use Tesla’s.
Speaker 1 [00:08:05] Can you give us a sense of the H.R. situation right now at Samuel was the one job you just can’t fill fast enough?
Speaker 3 [00:08:14] Timing is everything I would say. You can’t fill anything now, but it’s an absolute, very difficult situation on talent. But without question, I would say we operate businesses and we’ve invested more and more in businesses that involve automation, additive manufacturing, what I’ll call Industry 4.0 Technologies. And I would say in large part, those skills either don’t exist or are in such high demand that you really have to either find channels to partner with universities or you have to do on, in all honesty, train your own people. In the case of an evolving industry like additive, we really just rely on taking smart people out of university and training them ourselves, to be honest. But it permeates a lot of areas. I would say it just broadly I.T. We are a company that will have one of the largest cloud based ERP systems in the world, where about two thirds of the way through that. Even getting those types of skills for people to do cloud based systems is very hard. So it’s one of the frustrations of manufacturers that we always seem to lag in the academic community and the university community, the ability to seed those types of skills so that we’re ahead of that curve. We always seem to be scrambling to catch up when there’s things like mechatronics or automation skills that are required.
Speaker 1 [00:09:18] Can you explain to our listeners what exactly is mechatronics and additive manufacturing?
Speaker 3 [00:09:23] So starting with mechatronics, the whole field of automation obviously is exploding and we’re investing in companies and automation. We’ve bought two companies in automation and even before the labor in the workforce and the skills issues became so prevalent right that that Amazon’s giving signing bonuses. Automation was a good business. Now it’s going to be, I think, an incredible business. So when you look at an automation business, a skill you want is somebody that can combine mechanical engineering, knows how to put things together, but also electronics and programing. So it’s not like you want a pure mechanical engineer or a pure electronics engineer. You want a mechatronics person who can combine mechanical and electrical and programing skills all together. And that’s your kind of your perfect automation engineer. And so that’s what a mechatronics engineer is. And there’s some very good schools in Canada like Waterloo, who I think have been pioneers in actually developing the field of mechatronics. So that’s what mechatronics is in terms of additive. Additive is my whole life has been manufacturing in every aspect of manufacturing is subtractive and you take something big and then you machine it or you cut it or you fold it or you drill holes in it. But you keep removing and removing material a bit like sculpting until you get to a finished part. But in additive, you literally start from nothing and you build from the ground up. People call it 3D printing. That’s a little bit of a simplistic view because there’s a whole bunch of stuff that happens before you ever get to the printer. But but basically, it’s this additive a building from nothing versus subtracting and taking away. And I do think and we can probably come to it later. I think the adoption of additive is in early stage, but it will be a linchpin or keystone in the greening of manufacturing.
Speaker 1 [00:10:55] I wanted to ask you about that. So it sounds to me like it would reduce the much less waste additive manufacturing compared to previous forms of manufacturing. But what other ways is it considered more of a green practice?
Speaker 3 [00:11:07] There’s many elements of their green, but I would say there’s two big buckets. One is the first that you mentioned. You can imagine taking a giant slab of aluminum or steel and then cutting it and machining it, and you keep cutting away. And in some cases, you end up with a component where you’ve had 70 or 80 percent yield loss. By the time you get or even higher compared to additive where you print powder and you generally retain 99 percent of the powder, there’s one percent that’s melted slightly. That’s not usable, but you have 99 percent recovery versus 20 or 30 percent. So all of the energy that’s wasted in all of the yield that’s lost is a huge carbon footprint loss. But the second piece that I think sometimes underestimated is the way global supply chains work. You could be buying something in Indonesia, which ships to Canada, which is processed and shipped to the U.S. and maybe goes to Mexico and maybe comes back. So you, before you end up with a component, we make tubing for fuel injectors that metal travels all over the world before it ends up in an engine, as opposed to printing it at the site or close to the site. And so you don’t just have the gain of yield loss, but all of the energy that’s wasted, all the fuel that’s wasted transporting all of these semi-finished components, thousands and thousands of miles back and forth, you know, there’s a very significant carbon footprint. Emission and the transportation industry in general, of course, is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas. So if you can literally produce a component right at the assembly line where it’s going to be put into use and eliminate that whole supply chain, that’s a huge greening of the manufacturing industry.
Speaker 1 [00:12:34] So you’ve mentioned that one of your biggest challenges is getting that new breed of engineers to think differently about manufacturing and that you’ve actually tried to retrain mid-career engineers to unlearn what they know. What’s that been like and what makes engineering so challenging to reskill within the manufacturing space?
Speaker 3 [00:12:53] Yeah. So I’m a bit of a I’m an engineer by training, so I’m an engineer snob. But I will say that I think is really two elements of this one is getting engineers into the environment because I still think back. When I was in university, the scary exams where they would say you can bring anything you want into the room, you can bring any book, you can bring anything, it’s not going to help you and it creates that mindset where you realize it is you just your brain and creative problem solving and true innovation that’s going to solve the problem, not memorizing something, not not using something that everybody else does. A big part of my job, I think, is creating a culture in our company where that is the mindset you can challenge. You can innovate, you can take risk, you can fail and we’ll learn from that. But in terms of engineering specifically, additives very different because there really there’s very few places you can go in the world and find an additive program. And so we have found when we bring in more mature people that have spent 20 25 years in manufacturing, in a subtractive mode thinking about casting and machining and so on, they have struggled. We have had we have spent most of our time, I would say, bringing people literally out of school who have a mechanical engineering degree or a heat transfer engineering or something and really retraining them from scratch and trying to teach them using 3D modeling techniques and other techniques. How to design for additive It’s called Devam, which is designed for additive manufacturing, how to become competent in devam, and we basically train at our plant. That’s really the answer we have today. There are pockets again, Waterloo in this area, Mohawk College in this area. McGill University, U of T. These programs are evolving. And now there’s dozens and dozens of graduates out of these programs every year. So it’s getting easier. But certainly for the first three or four years that we were operating, we were more or less training our own people
Speaker 1 [00:14:35] coming up after the break, more of my conversation with Colin Osborn. Plus, I’ll reveal the top six emerging green jobs in Canada. You’re listening to Disruptors and RBC podcast. I’m Theresa Do. As you heard off the top RBC Economics and Thought Leadership has just released a report called, “Green Collar Jobs: The Skills Revolution Canada needs to reach net zero”. In it, we dove into some of the transformative changes coming to Canada’s labor force. To learn more, check out the link in the show notes of this episode and visit RBC dot com slash thought leadership and be sure to follow disruptors wherever you get your podcasts. Welcome back. We’re talking with Colin Osborne of Samuel Son and Co. about some of the challenges facing Canada’s manufacturing sector and how companies like Samuel are working with their partners along the supply chain to invest in new green skills and understand that you often have new employees working directly with big clients such as Boeing or Pratt and Whitney to learn how to design from first principles. Tell us more about that approach.
Speaker 3 [00:15:42] Yeah, and it’s a very good point. I think it’s interesting because it’s actually quite intimidating. I think we bring these young men and women out of university and we put them in front of Boeing engineers and sometimes it’s 10 engineers. And so it’s quite intimidating when you look at the differing skill sets, but it is a big part of the process. And in fact, one of the, I would say, the biggest barriers to entry today and additive is not so much, just as it’s actually educating the customer know that you can actually print something that will go on a plane and perform even better than the way you cast it. So that’s a huge leap for engineers, especially in industries like aerospace that have to be conservative. But it is a very interactive process, Teresa, where you take people that understand design for additive people that are responsible for the design authority and building a plane or a train or a car and putting those people together in a room. We actually do weeklong workshops where we put those people together, try to get them to blue sky. You know, what is it you’re trying to do? Forget how you used to make it. What is it? You need this part to do. So don’t worry about it, and we’ll figure out how we can print it. And that’s an amazing process to watch. It’s as educational for our people listening to people from Boeing and Tesla and GM as it is for I think those engineers and, you know, very mature companies thinking about how to live in a different way.
Speaker 1 [00:16:54] It reminds me of I read Elon Musk’s biography a few years ago, and he talks about first principles when he was starting out space. And a key component of that was just questioning how SpaceX has operated for the last several decades to the space program in the 60s and 70s. It was remarkable, and if you subtract all of things that add noise to how you work and just think about what do I need to get this thing out the door and then start the next process and the next process, and you just focus on those things and how you can completely reinvent an industry by doing so. So I think that’s fascinating. How well are you being served by the current skills training and educational programs that are available?
Speaker 3 [00:17:35] I think it’s getting better quickly. I think, you know, one of my best friends is actually the dean of engineering at Waterloo, and I’ll give a shout out to her. I think they’re doing a great job. But what I do find just a little challenging and it goes all the way back to even additive manufacturing. And mechatronics is very sexy, but you can obviously have a whole conversation about skilled trades too, about welding, right? And we do a lot of welding, try to find a good welders, try to find good electricians. So I just feel like sometimes we don’t maybe promote properly where the jobs are, what the compensation is, what the opportunity is. And because of that, we don’t fill the pipeline effectively. You know, and again, skilled trades is maybe the poster child for that. But I think in the case of mechatronics, in the case of additive manufacturing, I just I feel like we need to be just more proactive to identify technologies where we can be a big player and try to nurture the school system to shift that way. Because I’m sure, as you know, you know, when you go into university, it’s not like it’s published that if you take this program, you have an 80 percent chance of getting a job that will pay this much money. That kind of it doesn’t exist. I feel like if we did a more transparent approach to that, people would migrate more to these great opportunities. And I do think government can play a role. I actually think in the case of additive manufacturing, we have in Canada a pretty incredible hub between our company here, between Waterloo, between McGill and U of T. There’s some very good other 3D metal printing companies in Canada and Winnipeg and other places. Very good powder manufacturers. I think we have a center of excellence here in Canada that we could be absolutely world class. And I think if the government supports that and nurtures that and you at the university level and provides that feeder for this system, we could be a quite a powerful entity in the additive world.
Speaker 1 [00:19:14] What kind of jobs just simply can’t make the transition?
Speaker 3 [00:19:17] I think what we have to do is migrate product more than skill for me because I look across my business it like I have a blanking business that used to do metal blanking. We migrated it to aluminum freebies. I have a very good aluminum extrusion business, which did all kinds of stuff for windows and doors, but now they do massive amounts for solar panels. I have a pressure vessel business that does pressure vessels for pharmaceutical and oil and gas, but now they’re doing pressure vessels for renewable natural gas, where you capture waste gas out of landfill. So I’m sure there are jobs that are marginalized, but I think in large part for a company like ours, it’s more about migrating skills to different applications. But I think it’s actually necessary of I would say that the basic labor jobs where which were great entry level jobs for people that didn’t have more education. I think those jobs are going to start to disappear because we have no choice for the labor market is shrinking. Baby Boomers retiring, the number of people entering the workforce is shrinking. I saw data that the workforce is going. A grow by 0.2 percent in the US from 2024 to 2031, which is nothing. And so all of this let’s onshore, let’s build semiconductor plants. Let’s do all this great stuff. Where are those jobs going to come from? You know, I think if anything gets marginalized, it’ll be the unskilled labor jobs and those will have to be automated
Speaker 1 [00:20:35] in 10 years. How do you think the composition of your workforce will look?
Speaker 3 [00:20:40] We’re doubling down on automation in our company, and I believe that I don’t know if I will say the vast majority, but I would be hopeful that the vast majority of unskilled labor has been automated, and I would hope that a significant proportion of our workforce is actually in the design element. You know, everything from whether it’s pressure vessels or blanks or additive or automation. The proportion of people that are in product design and development is increasing in our company, and I think that’ll be a huge competitive advantage for us. Consider that our company not that long ago, was primarily viewed as a metals distributor, one of the largest. It’s still one of the largest in North America. I hope 10 years old, it’ll be looked at as a product innovator and core companies are around design and bringing product to market would be good. And again, I think there will be a necessity. It’s not. It’s not a nicety. It’ll be a necessity that most of the manual jobs will have been automated
Speaker 1 [00:21:30] as we round out this conversation based on your expertize and your experience. What should Canadian workers and employers be doing to not just compete but set themselves up for success on a global stage as we transition to a net zero economy?
Speaker 3 [00:21:45] Gentleman, that works for me. He was in a corporate development role in BlackBerry, and of course, we all know the BlackBerry story and sad as it is. And so I feel like as a government, as an industry, we should be sitting down and identifying technologies that are going to drive the green economy and investing like crazy. And, you know, everyone looks at will oil and gas, what will it be like? Of course, they’ll be an oil and gas industry for many decades. But what’s next? Is it mechatronics? Is it automation? Is it additive manufacturing? Is it solar or what are those industries that are going to be manufacturing driven that we can nurture and invest in all the way from the school system up through government to build these centers of excellence? Canada has lost so much manufacturing base, right? And so many corporate head offices, and I feel like we’re becoming a service economy and that’s OK. But I think as you know, the compensation is less than the spinoff jobs are less. And so I feel like if we don’t figure out what manufacturing trends are really going to be driving the next 10 or 15 years of growth and invest heavily in them now, then other people will. And it’s why I’m passionate about additive. I actually think Canada is has a unique opportunity to position itself as a center of excellence globally on additive, you know, but it’s going to require academia and manufacturing and industry and government all to align around that.
Speaker 1 [00:22:58] And are you hopeful that they will?
Speaker 3 [00:22:59] Yeah, I am. I do see I see government support. It’s never enough, of course, but I see government support. I see academic momentum in this field. We’re competing against obviously some pretty credible people in the US, in particular in Europe. But I do see some pretty positive momentum. But if I’m discouraged in any way, I just feel like in general, Canada has let manufacturing dwindle. You know, for decades, like people have been talking about the hollowing out of manufacturing Canada forever. And once you get past the mining industry and the oil and gas industry and a decreasing amount of automotive, you have to start to look pretty far for industry leaders in manufacturing in Canada. And I think that’s something we should reverse.
Speaker 1 [00:23:36] Colin, this has been a really insightful conversation. Thank you so much for your time.
Speaker 3 [00:23:41] Thank you, Teresa. My pleasure.
Speaker 1 [00:23:43] That was Colin Osborn, CEO of Samuelson and Company. It was a fantastic and fascinating conversation, especially on the point of additive manufacturing, which strikes me as an emblem of the challenges to come as we green our economy. There are only a few but growing school programs that are offering that specific training, but everyone needs to play their part to make this climate transition work. Companies that are developing these cutting edge innovations are already leading the charge in training and work integrated learning, but they need support from governments at all levels, not to mention collaboration and alignment with the universities and colleges that are educating the workforce of tomorrow. And now, as promised, the top six green jobs, as revealed by a new report from the Green Skills Network research projects in no particular order. Home Energy Auditor Home Energy Retrofit our solar panel installer bioenergy plant operator when a turbine maintenance technician and wind turbine manufacturing technician. If you’re looking to go green and put some green in your bank account, you got options. Thanks again to our guest Colin Osborn. Next week we’ll have another 10 minute tech with details on a historic moment for the TSX and why the opening bell has just been rung outside of Toronto for the first time ever. Until then, I’m Theresa Do and this is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 2 [00:25:11] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by Jar Audio. For more disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit rbc dot com, slash disruptors.
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Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.
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