In a town hall earlier this year, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada needs to phase out tar sands development. Trudeau’s comment angered politicians from Alberta, which is home to nearly 500,000 oil workers.
Many workers themselves, however, hold a more nuanced view. They understand that tar sands extraction is costly and destructive. Amid low oil prices and rising investment in electric vehicles, oil companies are losing interest in Canadian tar sands. Workers know that oil jobs won’t be around forever and some are taking matters into their own hands.
Iron and Earth, a nonprofit led by tar sands workers, is training oil and gas workers for jobs in renewable energy. The group recently held its first solar installation workshop. Participants installed solar panels on a community daycare center in Alberta. Iron and Earth plans to retrain 1,000 workers.
“The skills we have as energy workers are versatile and transferable, but support is needed to enable workers to diversify,” said Jen Turner, a spokesperson for Iron and Earth. The groups is now calling on the Canadian government to invest in similar clean energy training programs. “We hope they listen, and that more Canadians will realize what’s possible with training programs like this.”