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For Alberta, harnessing new opportunity for business and workers starts with realigning corporate purpose

May 1, 2021

It is nothing new to say that Alberta is hurting.

But for all the challenges of the past year, we remain ultimately optimistic about the future. The key to success lies with businesses’ ability to realign their purpose — and bring their employees along with them.

Alberta is resilient. But resilience no longer means waiting for the wind to change, buckling down while the worst of our crisis comes to pass. Rather the opposite — this time, Albertans need to focus on recognizing change, harnessing new opportunity and realigning our purpose to meet the moment. It is time to catalyze and galvanize on our entrepreneurial spirit. This type of energy cannot be manufactured.

The demand for change in Alberta’s core industries has never been higher, or more necessary. Across Canada and around the world, governments and businesses are taking up the mantle to fight for a global clean energy transition. In so doing, they risk leaving millions of people behind without the right approach to policy.

For Alberta, the challenge is real. A recent report from TD Economics suggests that 50–75 per cent of energy workers in Canada could lose their jobs from the energy transition.

At the same time, this transition provides an opportunity to innovate and potentially address certain long-standing employment challenges in our province. It’s time we got off of the roller-coaster.

This means reaching young people in Alberta, who are an untapped resource right now. The energy sector in particular faces an identity crisis as some young people turn away from what they perceive as a “dirty” industry that contributes to climate change.

It is not just young people driving this identity crisis. The core of the workforce is feeling it too. Challenges with retention have been impacting companies, and longtime employees are being left behind as the energy landscape changes.

These issues pose the following question: How does Alberta pivot its energy sector, without leaving behind its current workforce, whilst attracting young talent?

A cross-Canada survey from the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation recently showed that 50 per cent of Albertans want capitalism reformed to be more inclusive, fairer and more sustainable. This means communities, longtime employees and future Albertans need to be represented in the energy sector as we change. By taking up a people-first, purpose-driven mandate, businesses can not only provide commercial success but make Alberta a better place to work and live.

It is a difficult task, even for those companies already committed to real change. But solutions like harnessing or offsetting hydrocarbons can be baked into a gradual energy transition, creating jobs and fostering opportunity as we implement the necessary change.

Certain firms, including many large players, have already taken up this work, like Canary Biofuels, an Alberta-based firm working to reduce carbon emissions with its cleaner energy alternative.

Founder George Wadsworth spent over 20 years in the oil and gas sector before starting the company. In his words, “Canary is a company that contributes to helping Canadians and Albertans reduce GHG emissions while slowly transitioning away from fossil fuels. This creates a better Alberta by blending the old fossil fuel-driven Alberta with the new world of renewables.”

Wadsworth’s perspective speaks to the crucial role that oil and gas expertise can bring to a successful transition, if existing energy sector workers are included.

Albertan companies need to look at “why” we are shifting to green energy, not just “how.” Defining the purpose of the work, mobilizing the current workforce and investing in our community is the first step. Leadership in the industry will be competitive in the coming years. The companies focused on their responsibility to key stakeholders — their employees and communities — will come out on top. If it’s done right, so will Alberta.

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