Canada needs more engineering grads – especially women – to meet 2050 net-zero goals
Open letter to education ministers in Canada (PDF, 477 KB)
March 7, 2023
Urgent action is required if Canada, together with 120 other countries, is to meet a 2050 target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases.
Achieving a net-zero energy supply will require innovative thinking among industry, governments, and our workforce. As education ministers, you have an important role to play.
Among the rapid advances being made in the nuclear sector is the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) which harness nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy. They are typically smaller than conventional reactors and modular, making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation. They can be built relatively quickly and at lower cost while offering flexibility and reliable access to secure energy that does not produce carbon emissions, thus helping to combat climate change. However, there are not enough university graduates or skilled tradespeople required for the construction, installation, operation and regulation of SMRs.
A 2022 C.D. Howe Institute study concluded that there is a shortage of people graduating from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies for the growing Canadian economy. It’s not just about university graduates. Technological change throughout society means the tools that tradespeople use – from automotive mechanics to construction workers – are increasingly digital.
Ensuring that Canada has a diverse labour force with the right skillsets to succeed is fundamentally important to safety. Diverse voices bring a broader range of viewpoints and ideas to innovation, which results in a better safety outcome in the nuclear sector. Having a diverse nuclear workforce is to everyone’s advantage – but we’re falling far short, particularly with respect to gender equality: of 56,139 post-secondary engineering graduates in Canada in 2020, only 21.1% were women.
A misperception persists that STEM studies and careers in these fields are more suitable for boys and men than for girls and women. The Canadian educational system must promote greater interest in STEM subjects overall, and particularly among K-12 girls, so that more of them go on to pursue studies and careers in STEM. Very specifically, we must encourage greater interest in the nuclear sector if we are to meet the 2050 net-zero goals that policy-makers have set for us.
We are asking education ministers in Canada’s provinces and territories to establish long-term policies that:
- require more science and math in the K-12 curriculum, including requiring all students to complete a minimum of one math course for every secondary school year (grade 9-12),
- ensure diverse role models among STEM educators and augment the resources and training they receive.
- encourage more girls and young women to follow STEM studies in K-12 classes,
- include clean energy sources, such as nuclear power generation, as a subject in the high school curriculum. Footnote 1
For many years, the nuclear sector has been promoting participation in STEM education. Some examples of STEM outreach organizations that we have supported in various roles are: Scientists in the School, Science North, Nuclear Innovation Institute, SHAD, and Women in Nuclear Speaker’s Clearinghouse, among others. Our efforts are helping, but it is not the step change required.
The research tells us that we need to make a greater effort to teach children about STEM subjects . Until the education system adopts our recommendations, there will be little change.
For decades, Canada has been a leading industrialized economy and an innovator in nuclear technologies. But we will never reach our net-zero goals without a significant shift in our educational system. We have to do better to prepare our workforce of the future. Provincial education ministers play an important role in helping Canada achieve its objectives in fighting climate change, and your leadership is urgently needed to establish the long-term vision and policies to equip our workforce for success.
President and CEO, CNSC
President and CEO (Acting), New Brunswick Power Corporation
President and CEO, CANDU Owners Group
President and CEO, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
President and CEO, Cameco Corporation
President and CEO, Ontario Power Generation
President, Commercial Operations, BWX Technologies Inc
President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
President and CEO, SaskPower
President and CEO, Bruce Power
President and CEO, Nuclear Waste Management Organization
President and CEO, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
- Footnote 1
Engineers Canada. Environmental scan report – 30 by 30 and beyond. Accessed in 2023.
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