Workers will be impacted by the increased adoption of clean technologies in the coming decades. Policymakers are being tasked with managing these impacts by creating new training and education programs to support those affected. But policymakers responsible for planning for the future often have many of the same uncertainties as the workers they are trying to support: Who will be impacted, and where will they live? Which skills will be required to fill new roles? And, how should funding and training programs be designed to meet workers needs?
These uncertainties can slow or halt the development of effective policies and programs. To avoid this, policymakers need better ways to think about how new technologies will impact workers. This blog is the second of a two-part series overviewing how the team at the PLACE Centre thinks about developing green jobs outlooks. The goal of this series is to inform policy planning, all with the objective of making better decisions for workers.
In the first blog, I argue policymakers need to use foresight techniques when thinking about the future. By planning around more than one version of the future, we can better understand how variables like technology uptake rates, economic outlooks, and even natural disasters might impact the workforce. This, in turn, helps the groups and stakeholders responsible for training and education workers be better prepared for a range of potential scenarios. In this second blog, I offer a different way to think about the impacts new technologies will have on workers and regions: Instead of considering the impacts of a technology sector by sector, we should think about their entire value-chain (this is made up of the technology’s supply chain as well as the sectors impacted by the growth of a new technology due to changes in trade patterns).
Think about technologies and value-chains, not industries and occupations
Thinking about the impacts of a clean technology on a sector-by-sector basis can raise some challenges for analysts. New clean technologies often cross multiple sectors. Simple methodological questions like “should the focus be placed on only those responsible for producing a technology, or those surrounding the adoption of that technology?” can lack a clear answer. Mass timber solutions, for example, require collaboration between manufacturers, architects, and construction workers, meaning there is no clear sector separation between where production ends and adoption begins. This makes scoping any sector-based discussion very difficult.
Instead of focussing on specific sectors or occupations, our work at the PLACE Centre uses a “value-chain” approach to understanding a new technology’s labour market impacts. Value chains represent the full range of activities that are required to bring a product or service from development, to market, to disposal. Value-chain mapping, used by organizations like the International Labour Organization and the World Bank, is a way of mapping out this full range of activities as well as showing the interconnections between sectors.
The value-chain perspective begins by identifying a given technology that could affect the workforce. In our ongoing work with Future Skills Centre, there are three: zero-emissions vehicles, alternative and plant proteins, and mass timber. Given our mandate to be place-based, our work is also adding a regional dimension to each analysis, focussing on Southwestern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and British Columbia respectively.
The next step is to map out a new technology’s supply chain alongside the inter-sectoral trade patterns of these supply chain components. This helps identify which industries will be impacted by this new technology. For this exercise, literature reviews and stakeholder discussions helped us identify which sectors make up the supply chain of each new technology. Mapping out the supply chain, and the sectors that trade with industries in that supply chain, creates a more detailed understanding of the sectors where workers will be affected. This is helpful for identifying where changes in skills needs are occurring, and where training and education efforts should be focussed.
Once the supply chain is identified, the NAICS codes associated with each step in the process are identified along with those of all sectors with high volumes of intersectoral trade. This step is critical, as creating effective labour market outlooks requires translating qualitative insights into something we can quantify. Once NAICS codes have been identified, impacted occupations can be identified through the National Occupation System. With this final step, we can show how to better understand the impacts of a clean technology, or growing sector, on workers.
Coming up with insights that better support workers
When thinking about green jobs, policymakers and economists can’t simply use the same old approaches. There are too many variables associated with climate action, and new technologies do not fit neatly into industrial sectors. However, the policies developed to support workers in changing sectors in the coming years need to be based in rigorous analysis. This shows that a different approach is needed. The hope is that the two approaches outlined in this blog series will prove helpful for policymakers as they develop their own provincial, territorial, or regional labour market strategies to help create green jobs.