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Laura Rynard, 23, is glad to have been caught in what energy industry insiders are calling "the perfect storm." The recent graduate of the University of Waterloo's environment and business program is making above average wages (the average for recent grads from Laura's program is $40,000), with excellent benefits and promotion prospects at Ontario's Hydro One, all thanks to the aging of the energy workforce coupled with an urgent demand for more power sources in line with Canada's stated aim to reduce greenhouse gases.

Rynard is just one of many green-minded grads, from a wide range of educational backgrounds, who are seeing their dreams come true thanks to an explosion of jobs in energy. "Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be involved in the environment, but I didn't know how," says the farmer's daughter, who used to sell sweet corn from her father's beef and cash crop farm by the side of the road in Uxbridge, ON. "Because of my dad I originally wanted to get into sustainable agriculture, but then I got interested in the environment and world issues and realized I really wanted to help develop clean ways to generate energy."

Rynard now specializes in environmental assessments for transmission projects. "I will be spending the next two years as a new graduate trainee moving around to different departments at Hydro One, but eventually I'll get back to the environmental approval department where I'll be doing assessments," she says.

Rynard has a lot to look forward to, as do many grads, engineering and otherwise, when it comes to their future in Canada's energy industry. "Recent hires can expect to rise fast with a little experience," says Hany Micheal, managing director and senior VP of Wardrop Engineering, a consulting firm providing environmental and fully integrated engineering and environmental solutions for power producers, including safe and efficient operation of nuclear power stations, management of nuclear by-products, and transmission and distribution solutions.

Listed as one of Canada's Top Employers since 2002, and with staff in 50 countries, the private company is in immediate need of between 300-500 engineers. About 60 per cent of those jobs are for recent grads.

"We hire in teams of five, so we do need one or two senior level engineers on each team," says Michael. "Which means that those who do have some experience rise fast."

Michael's company is not alone in its need to hire large numbers of employees in the immediate future. "Job growth is happening across the industry," Michael says. "That's due to a number of things. The majority of Canada's energy infrastructure was built in the 1970s, while demand for electricity has increased, due to population growth. Meanwhile, the majority of employees in utilities are reaching their retirement years. According to one stat I saw, for every three people retiring there is just one entering the workforce."

Jobs available to engineers include those trained in all areas, says Michael, adding the worldwide initiative to reduce greenhouse gases has resulted in an increase of investment in nuclear power. "Nuclear is emerging as a very big part of the energy sector, mainly because it's one of the few energy providers that's as reliable as coal when it comes to providing baseload power," explains Michael, adding that nuclear is an area of industry for which Wardrop has been aggressively recruiting for the past few years.

In fact, several thousand positions in nuclear companies worldwide are expected to open up over the next few years, according to the University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE), an alliance of universities, nuclear power utilities, research and regulatory agencies established as a not-for-profit corporation by the Government of Canada in 2002.

But engineering grads aren't the only ones who'll benefit from the boom. According to Don MacKinnon, president of the Power Workers' Union, and a former member of the Ontario government's Electricity Conservation and Supply Task Force, the electricity generation, transmission and distribution industry is facing a national shortage of workers.

"In the Canadian sector alone, 65 percent of workers are aged 40 to 54 years with 26 percent of all electricity workers retiring in the next 10 years," MacKinnon said during a presentation at the Canadian Nuclear Association's annual seminar last year. "The need for workers in the nuclear industry is even more pressing," he said, adding, "39 percent of nuclear workers in Canada are 50 or older."

All of this adds up to some interesting opportunities for grads. "I love it because I got to marry my genuine concern for the environment with a genuine business need for more energy, thanks to my realization that there was definitely a job in this area," says Rynard. jp