Attracting And Retaining Talent Key To Alberta’s Energy Development Goals
Editor's note: This is the first part in a series of articles stemming from a recent Canadian Energy Executive Association (CEEA) Beyond Boomers event.
If Alberta is going decarbonize its traditional oil and gas sector while developing new energy systems and clean technologies to power a growing global population, it needs talented and highly skilled people to do the work, the audience of executives and young professionals heard at the recent Canadian Energy Executive Association’s (CEEA) Beyond Boomers event.
But getting talent to engage with industry is a challenge, said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and industry leaders who followed her on the stage at the Calgary Petroleum Club. Change is needed in the education system to inform young people about the breadth of work available, and to get them interested in working to solve some of the greatest challenges facing their generation. And industry needs to make space for talented people with different views, and work to align its values with a new generation of workers.
Alberta has the foundations in place to attract both talent and new business, said Smith. This includes things like affordable housing in the province’s major cities, low taxes and no sales tax, and current budget surpluses that allow the province to soften the blow of any economic hardships like the current inflationary environment.
“We have such a great value proposition in Alberta. And because we have such robust industry and generate so much revenue it allows for more services and support for the vulnerable.”
While net migration numbers show people are coming to Alberta as the economy has improved, the oilfield services sector continues facing labour shortages. These shortages could get worse as activity ramps up on CCUS megaprojects and other large projects that build off its traditional oil and gas sector.
Alberta hasn’t done the best job developing a skilled workforce to meet industry needs, said Smith. “In K-12 we need to expose young people to the different career paths available. In skilled trades Germany has 300 different career paths students are exposed to in junior high and high school. Here, we have about seven. If you don’t know what’s available, it takes time. The average age of getting into the skilled trades in Alberta is 27. We want them in 10 years earlier.”
Retaining existing skilled workers is also a priority, said Smith, adding her government’s proposed royalty credit to encourage more well reclamation is designed to get companies to spend on retiring assets during periods when activity is down due to low commodity prices. “It creates a virtuous circle of doing more reclamation when prices are down and more drilling when prices are up. Instability is one of the reasons we lose so many people.”
Another, more fundamental challenge is getting young people and young professionals to want to work in the industry, said Jennifer Turner, a director with the Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA).
“I spend a lot of time with young people, and they oppose oil and gas development — full stop,” Turner said, adding that this attitude stems from misconceptions about the industry and how it works.
“Industry today is fundamentally different. We need to show how different. If we create space for young people and young professionals they will show up, but they want to make a difference. That’s our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.”
Avatar Innovations is all about creating that space for innovators, academics, and emerging corporate leaders to create the new technologies that will make a difference, said Kevin Krausert, its chief executive officer. Since starting in the depths of the pandemic, the program has created 30 new technologies that are being supported by industry. Through teaching its collaboration model to almost 650 students and counting, it’s also embedded entrepreneurship within large oil and gas company structures. “It’s allowed emerging leadership in large cap oil and gas companies to come up with solutions inside oil and gas companies.”
Oil and gas are going to be needed for a long time to come, added Krausert, so this type of collaboration is imperative. “We’re not going to electrify everything.”
The idea that technological innovation will help Alberta reach its emissions and other environmental targets is embedded in the province’s approach to climate change, said Smith. Alberta is on board to reach net zero by 2050. It just wants to do it in a way that maintains existing jobs and industry while building new industries and jobs through innovation.
The Alberta vision is to do what the energy industry has always done — innovate and turn waste streams and byproducts from its oil and gas production into new revenue streams. Smith pointed to over 6,000 products made from petrochemicals as an example of this ingenuity. “CO2 is just another waste stream to turn into another revenue source.”
“Why this industry is great is you can enter it because you love energy, or you can enter it because you love the environment,” Smith added.
Social innovation is just as important as technical innovation in attracting talent, said Turner, citing relationships with Indigenous communities as an opportunity to find common ground with young people.
“It means true partnerships and the ability to shape what a project becomes. I’m proud of what Canada has done but we’re not there yet. There’s lots of work to be done.”
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