Whitelaw argues people-and-skills based scenario planning key to energy transition

How is this for a partnership for the times: Avatar Innovations, City of Calgary, Energy Futures Lab, Indian Resource Council and PetroLMI?

And what if energy transition scenario planning is the partnership’s foundation? That is, scenario planning specifically focused on the people and skills required to make transition work?

If the combination of a technology accelerator, energy labour market forecaster, a social/tech innovation group, Indigenous opportunities creator and municipal government collaboratively grappling with energy transition dynamics seems puzzling, read on.

Most energy players would agree we're firmly in the grips of something called “energy transition.” But energy transition is many things to many people. Its definitions and meanings span a vast spectrum of sometimes contested and polarized perspectives. There’s plenty of talk about “pathways” but we’re far from consensus along whose pathway, or pathways, we will navigate and progress.

And 2050 – currently the most accepted time post for achieving the Holy Grail of energy transition, net zero – is a long way off, generationally speaking. Much needs to happen between now and then, across many, many fronts and between many, many parties.

But as all those parties are in the same proverbial lifeboat, if they don’t get the energy transition resume right, we’re pretty much hooped. 

Hence the potential need for people-and-skills based scenario planning, to map out a range of possibilities that might take shape in our future state. With those scenarios in hand can come the collaborative planning to create the dynamic plans anticipating each imagined outcome.

What skills will a 35-year-old energy professional need in 2035? Depends. What will be the energy workforce’s composition and complexion that year? Again, it depends.

Ask today's 21-year-old new energy entrant (who will be that 35-year-old) what skills she will need 14 years hence and she will likely be stumped. Because it depends on what things actually look like in 2035 – and what happens in the years leading up to then.

Lots of important transition moves are already under way. Organizations like the Transition Accelerator in Calgary are busy mapping various pathways. Students in the University of Calgary’s sustainable energy development graduate program are similarly engaged. The industry group representing drillers and well servicing companies has positioned itself for transition opportunities by rebranding to the Canadian Association Of Energy Contractors. New organizations like the Canadian Energy and Climate Nexus were birthed to deal with transition dynamics. Entities like the International Energy Agency prepare detailed future states forecasts, the perspectives of which are hotly debated.

But much of this activity is asynchronous; there’s no critical mass building from collaboration across multiple players. The list is long.

Yet no one seems to be talking specifically and collaboratively about the people pathways.

The energy transition crystal ball is still cloudy. It’s clouded by the tensions of transition; many of which have to do with rate and pace of change – and the degree to which fossil fuels play a part as part of a system of systems. Energy transition is also heavily politicized; some might argue it is radicalized. The reality is stark: regardless of policy frameworks, ESG realities, and the rise of renewables, no one knows for certain how transition will unfold.

Therein lies the allure of people-powered scenarios mapping out to 2050. 

Scenario planners talk in terms of "forces" and "uncertainties.” One major uncertainty is whether or not we will have an able-and-ready workforce in 2035 and beyond, simply because it’s possible no one is attracted to an energy career. There are scenario planning tools aplenty but at their core they are about imagining a range of futures – and having plans adaptable to each of them. Scenario planning is a discipline; indeed, global companies like Shell have relied on the rigor of scenarios for years to guide their evolution.

Energy transition offers a mind-boggling array of future possibilities but central to them all is people.

The key is agreeing on what constitutes a reasonable set of scenarios – all with people and skills development at their core.

That’s why the five organizations flagged above could make it work by producing consensus-based scenarios that focus on skills development. Their table stakes are people. And they represent intriguing – and often overlapping – stakeholder constituencies. A potential alignment between the five represents an exponentially larger sphere of input.

By building toward common ground, they could represent how a system of systems might well work – one in which common interests are synergistically aligned and disparate interests subjected to collaborative resolution.

  • Avatar Innovations focuses on women and men aged 25 to 40 already working in energy to prepare them for transition leadership roles. Through the Avatar Ignites process, young leaders are equipped with the tools and perspectives necessary to think through transition dynamics.
  • Calgary has declared a climate emergency – and what better way to make it meaningful than pragmatically executing against a vision of what Calgary’s energy essence will over the next few decades in terms of its workforce. Could Calgary be known as a global energy transition capital?
  • The Energy Futures Lab uniquely balances social innovation and technological innovation to map to future energy thinking. Its fellowship includes some of the most creative thinkers in the current energy system.
  • The Indian Resource Council is a central player on the Indigenous workforce landscape – and Indigenous women and men and the communities in which they live are critical components of effective energy transition thinking.
  • PetroLMI – a part of Energy Safety Canada – is well known for its competencies in labour market skills needs and assessment as well as job transformation.

Imagine the positive collaborative power of these groups. Each brings something unique to the table.

They could start by with engaging with the Energy Futures Lab’s Newtonian Shift simulation, which packs decades of energy transition dynamics into a single day. Their next step could be to produce a handful of consensus scenarios that focus specifically on the nature of energy work in 2035 and beyond, based on how various energy systems could be interacting and engaging with each other.

Each scenario could discuss and debate the pragmatic skills planning pathways so that we arrive in a future energy state with people well prepared and trained to make opportunities out of what are currently viewed as challenges.

Dear user, please be aware that we use cookies to help users navigate our website content and to help us understand how we can improve the user experience. If you have ideas for how we can improve our services, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to email us. By continuing to browse you agree to our use of cookies. Please see our Privacy & Cookie Usage Policy to learn more.