Trades Jobs On A Path To A Sustainable Future

Iron & Earth create platform to engage in renewable energy development issues
Calvin Borghardt, Contributor

Culture 1 - Trades Jobs by Yuta Anonueva
(Yuta Anonueva)

The KPU Tech campus welcomed Lliam Hildebrand, the Founding Director of Iron & Earth, on Feb. 8 to speak to trades students about applying their skills to the renewable energy sector.

A boilermaker by trade, Hildebrand chose to dedicate his skills to helping the world transition to renewable sources of power. His advocacy work led him to found Iron & Earth, a coalition of oilsands workers who are committed to catalyzing Canada’s renewable energy sector.

“Our organization’s specifically looking at the diversification of Alberta’s electricity grid, because right now they’re so dependent on coal as a form of electricity, and that’s obviously the most unsustainable forum of electricity at this point,” says Hildebrand.

Recently, the Alberta NDP’s climate change strategy set a target to generate 30 per cent of the province’s power from sources such as wind, solar, and hydro to accompany the plan’s accelerated phase-out of coal by 2030.

“As that government reaches its target, that’s going to require diversity of renewable energy sources, including primarily wind and solar,” says Hildebrand. “Then, hopefully, they will also work to include geothermal and biomass technologies into their electrical production.”

It may seem somewhat contradictory for oilsands workers to advocate for renewable energy, but according to the group’s website, a lot of trades workers were losing jobs due to the transitory nature of non-renewable sources of energy. Now, Hildebrand explains, tradespeople can go through a simple, five-day training program to learn how to apply their skill set to work on constructing machines that harness renewable energy such as solar panels.

“It’s almost nothing because our skills are so transferable. We already know almost everything that we need to know to work in these other industries,” he says. “Myself, I feel pretty confident that if I showed up on a wind energy site, I could work with the cranes, rig up the components, put them into place, bolt it all up, and have it operational if I was working with a contractor that knew what they were doing as well and had other people experienced in the industry. So that’s my boilermaker skills coming into effect.”

The process of bringing Hildebrand to the KPU Tech campus in Cloverdale came about through conversation between Sustainable KSA, the PIPE UP Network, and John O’Brien, the Tech campus coordinator.

“We really wanted to engage students around that topic,” says Mairi Lester, Sustainability Coordinator of the KSA. “We were talking about how that happens and then Justine [Nelson, Chapter Coordinator for the PIPE UP Network] saw Lliam talk at another event, and was so inspired by the fact that he’s a tradesperson, by the fact that he’s incredibly well-spoken.”

“I wanted to do something that [bridged] the gap between environmentalists and [trades] workers,” says Nelson, who is also a KPU alumna. “There’s this perception that environmentalists don’t want the trade workers to have jobs, that there’s a lot of conflict there. I want to work to repair that, to see how we can bridge that gap so we can start working together.”

According to their website, the PIPE UP Network is a group of Southwestern B.C. residents who are concerned about the impact of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby.

“As you can see with the presentation, there are so many opportunities [for trades people], and the only way we’re going to keep moving forward is if we come together and work together,” says Nelson.