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Jobs, money, and power

Well, maybe not the power you were thinking of. The Canadian gas and oil sector is hiring. With the right credentials, skills, and attitude, you can take advantage of a field that pays well and needs workers. 

Canadians sit on a mountain of energy. Some of it goes overseas, some of it crosses into the United States, and a lot of it is burned by us: powering our lights and late nights, our PCs and TVs, our planes, trains, and automobiles. 

According to Cheryl Knight, CEO of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada (PHRSC), oil and gas also employs a lot of Canadians. You could say that, directly and indirectly, the industry employs over 500,000 workers. Directly, it's more in the neighborhood of a 185,000 workers.

As demand for energy grows at home and abroad, the oil and gas industry is pushing to get more oil from more resources. In this environment, there's something for every job-seeker: fast-paced work to get you career-ready, high-tech toys to play with, and the opportunity to investigate new careers.

The industry that's hiring

A combination of industry growth and an ageing workforce means strong job prospects. The PHRSC estimates a 73 per cent growth in the oil sands by 2021. Overall, we expect the oil sands to grow by fifteen thousand jobs [by 2021], says Knight. When you take age-related attrition, and vacancies into account, you can add about ten thousand.

Oil and gas is also a sector focused on new talent. The industry is more likely to hire new grads than experienced engineers from other sectors, says Knight. The hiring source for engineers is either new grads or hiring from the competition. Hiring professionals from another sector can cost a lot of money, so companies in the industry tap into the younger crowd.

Benjamin Daniels is a recent earth sciences grad from Ontario. For him, oil and gas is a natural extension of his studies and interests. He's also attracted to the variety of work, and the international flavour of working in petroleum. As Canadians, we tend to be focused in on the deposits in the oil sands in Alberta.  However, oil can be found in many other types of deposits aside from sand.  Examples of these include oil and gas locked up in shale in the United States, as well as reserves that are structurally controlled by overlying salt beds, present off the coast of Brazil.

Daniels also enjoys the prospect of using his skills in a practical setting. It's one thing to learn the material in the classroom and answer questions correctly on an exam, but it's very exciting to consider that the geological interpretations made in the workplace will be used by business executives to make financial decisions regarding the company's assets.

Students who want a career in the oil and gas industry should expect to work hard, but they won't be working for nothing. These jobs will land you high-tech equipment and mobility. There's great career development [in oil and gas], says Stephanie Ryan, director of Talent Acquisition at Suncor Energy, We're often on the leading edge of technology. And there's an opportunity to explore careers that you might not have thought about.

Sharon Sherman, career advisor at the University of Alberta, says the industry is marked by entrepreneurship. But she cautions students that it can be a lot to handle. Working conditions can be stressful due to heavy workloads with competing priorities and pressure decision-making situations.

On the other hand, you won't be going through that stress for nothing. Sherman says, According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey results, the average hourly starting wage for petroleum engineers working in the oil and gas extraction industry is $49.99. Other bonuses include good employment prospects and opportunities for advancement once employed.

So what's it really like?

The environment can really vary depending on the employer, area of concentration, and the employee's experience, says Sherman. A petroleum engineer, for example, could specialize in drilling, reservoir management or production. Junior engineers often work in the field while experienced engineers tend to work primarily in office settings.

The plus for students working in oil and gas is that they can learn a lot in a short time and use their experience as a springboard for higher things. Suncor, for instance, offers a mentorship program for engineers.

Our new engineering graduates are able to participate in our engineers-in-training program, says Ryan. They rotate through the business and work directly with a senior professional for mentorship. After that they can qualify for their P. Eng.

No engineering degree? No problem. Oil and gas goes beyond blueprints. The oil and gas sector hires many professions, including tradespeople, environment scientists, purchasing agents, and line operators. Some of these jobs have broad skill sets that you can demonstrate from other work. Some of them just require you to show up and do a good job.

For example, there are specific trades that are becoming very valuable for the industry, like power engineers. There are many opportunities for power engineers with steam backgrounds in the oil sands, says Knight. That's because of processes like steam-assisted gravity drainage that are becoming popular ways to extract oil from bitumen. Knight adds that health and safety personnel are also a valued field. Safety is paramount. Every company either hires safety specialists or contracts to safety consultants.  

Aside from direct support for oil extractions, business, arts, and finance grads can also find employment. There are many different career paths you can take in a company the size of Suncor, says Ryan. I think a lot of people think about traditional engineering and trades jobs, which we certainly do hire for. But there's also a lot of business professional jobs in areas such as finance, human resources and supply chain'that's a really big and growing area for our company in particular. Ryan says that there are even university courses in supply chain management now in response to the growing need for specialists.

Alright, enough stalling.

So how do you get a job in oil and gas?

First off, get to know where you want to work. It's important to do your research, says Knight. It's an industry that's divided into a lot of different sectors and the jobs available tend to vary by sector. Figure out where your skills can take you in the industry and get to know the work you'd be doing.

And while you're doing your research, don't forget that networking helps if you're just starting out. For younger students, my message is simple, says Daniels. Get yourself out there and take initiative.  Go to job fairs, network with company representatives, and try your best to establish person-to-person relationships with people from companies you're interested in working for.

For those in sciences, Daniels recommends conferences and conventions. I would recommend that every student interested in a career in petroleum make a trip out to Calgary to attend the annual Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG) convention.  There are plenty of opportunities to network with various companies, and, for those of you who are aspiring scientists, there are some very interesting lectures as well!

At the end of the day, it's also good to make sure your values match up with the company. When we're recruiting new grads, we really look for people that are a good fit for Suncor, says Ryan. People who would succeed in our company would be those that are passionate and excited about what they do, willing to think innovatively, and thrive on a challenge. If you're determined to work in oil and gas you shouldn't have any problems. We'd wish you luck, but if you can show that zeal to employers, you won't need it.

Photo: sharply_done/iStock