A small group of new Canadians are on their way to becoming new power engineers thanks to the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society's Oil and Gas Training Programs (CCIS OGTP).
CCIS is working with SAIT Polytechnic, Enform and the Alberta Boilers Safety Association (ABSA) to deliver the 37-week program that began on Monday, Jan. 28 with a group of 16 students selected from hundreds of applicants. All the students are either new Canadians or unemployed and underemployed immigrants with previous science and technology training suitable to the trade.
"What makes this program unique is the fact that we're able to provide the training in only 37 weeks," said CCIS spokesperson Ana Hoepfner.
"We're able to do this in such a short period of time," she continued, "because these individuals already have strong backgrounds in mechanical, science, physics, abstract reasoning, chemistry and so forth. So, they're able to take up a lot of that knowledge and retool it and become certified as power engineers in a short period of time."
Financial support for the program has come from the federal government and provincial government in Alberta, but a great deal of in-kind support has also come from an oil and gas industry that recognizes a considerable need for power engineers now and in the future.
"They participate with us on final selection, as guest speakers, mentoring the clients and guiding field trips, providing orientation," said Hoepfner.
"And, at the end of the day, providing job opportunities."
Hoepfner explained that this first session of the program is a pilot project driven by that demand for power engineers.
"We feel that this will be a very significant step forward for the industry," she said.
"This is a very in-demand occupation. In the oil sands, it's the most in-demand occupation. And we think that this is a unique avenue to access people who are already here, who are unemployed or underemployed or marginally employed, who might have backgrounds as mechanical engineers or as physicists or as science teachers, and who are being underutilized skill-wise. And retooling those skills to become certified in a profession that is lucrative, that will provide good revenue for the government.
"One company mentioned to me a couple of days ago over the phone that they were going to post twenty power engineering positions in the next couple of weeks," Hoepfner continued. "And that's just one company in the next two weeks. So, you can imagine the scope.
"They're not just needed in the oil sands. They're needed in hospitals. They're needed in schools. Anywhere there's boilers and pressurized equipment. In waste treatment plants. They're needed in the city of Calgary. They're needed in the city of Edmonton. They're needed in different kinds of facilities. So, there's a huge scope for growth in this profession."
In fact, the opportunities range from oil refineries to breweries.
"There's certainly a huge market for power engineers," said Hoepfner. "So, we do feel that this model and this industry-driven approach could be applied on a much wider scale."
Hoepfner noted that government funding for such programs is limited, but CCIS is hopeful that industry will play a greater role in training power engineers.
"If industry were to step in and we could collaborate to train greater numbers of people, this will be a great opportunity," she said.
"Because the need is already here," she added. "It's not looming. The shortage is already here. And we need those people trained as soon as possible. And the best way is to access [people] who are already here, who already have the skills and who can very quickly become certified.
"And as they are a diverse group, they have other skills and other perspectives that they can also bring to the workplace."
The project began with the initial program proposal that was written in 2009.
"It's been a few years in coming to fruition," said Hoepfner. "We have been talking about this for quite some time and building up the support that would be required to make it successful."
The first group of students was chosen from a shortlist of 40 only about a week prior to the start date of the program.
"Every single person that came to help us out with the interviews said the same thing – they were astounded by the caliber of talent," said Hoepfner, adding that the oil company representatives on the selection committee remarked that any of the candidates would be make a good addition to their staff with the proper certification.
Hoepfner remarked that a number of the candidates had known that the program was in the works for some time.
"And so they periodically kept knocking on our doors, saying, 'Have you heard anything about the power engineering program?'" she said, adding that those selected are very appreciative of being chosen by industry to take part in the training.
"They really are seizing this very strongly," Hoepfner continued, noting that students were arriving as early as 8:00 during the first week, even though class begins at 9:00.
"This is a very motivated team.," she said.
"This will be an excellent way for them to get started in an important sector of the economy, whether they choose to go into oil and gas or whether they choose to go into building management or they wish to go to petrochemical plants or breweries or plastic plants.
"It will mean an important change in their lives because they have struggled, in many cases, for years to find sustainable employment.
"In only nine months, their lives will turn around, and they will be making in the vicinity of $100,000."