Thursday, 19 June 2014

Labour Market Trends and Rising Stars in Fort McMurray - Part 2

Today's post is from Amy Roy Gratton, Experiential Learning Coordinator with CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre.

I often get the question, “what do you do all summer when there are no students around?” I’m fortunate to be able to explore careers first hand in order to be more knowledgeable about career options and labour market information when I advise students. 

This summer I was thrilled to participate the Oil Sands Careers Education Program hosted by Inside Education where I got to explore Alberta’s oil sands in Fort McMurray. I love Inside Education because their programming includes multiple perspectives. This was particularly important with the oil sands where debate continues daily regarding its environmental and economic impacts. In my last blog post I talked about life as a commuting employee – but that was just half of the experience. In addition the tour also explored educational, government, industry, human resources and labour market perspectives.

The packed two-day tour began with an overview of labour market trends over the next 20 years. According to the human resources professionals at Cenovus, a Canadian oil company employing about 5000 people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the biggest threat to oil sands production is a human resources problem: not having enough skilled workers to make the work happen. Age-related attrition caused by a retiring workforce means creative strategies are needed to develop flexible work options for retiring employees who are valuable in mentoring new employees. There are also the usual concerns such as turnover; however, it’s not just local competitors offering enticing opportunities, it’s now a global market making offers that can’t be refused.

It seems the most common career shortages that we hear about are trades, science and technology. However, on this tour I was encouraged to see the variety of jobs that exist in supporting roles within the oil sands industry. All disciplines including communications, aboriginal relations, workplace health and wellness, information systems, finance, environmental, policy development and distribution are needed, valued and important.

If you’d like to learn more about the variety of people that make the oil industry work, the May 2014 issue of Oil Week Magazine highlights 12 Rising Stars who are key contributors. Not only did they profile a variety of careers, they also emphasized the career theory CAPS supports: that we are not one dimensional people; we have multiple interests and multiple goals, beyond work, that are just as important as the work that we do.

Although there seems to be an impression that people with less than a high school education can find lucrative work in Fort McMurray; this is a myth. The message we heard over and over again is that oil companies need trained (and trainable) people who can learn fast and who won’t cause costly mistakes. Our first stop, to reinforce this point, was a visit to Keyano College. At the college we received an overview of Heavy Equipment Technician, Power Engineering, and the Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator and the Environmental Technology Program – which now includes a wildlife component mandated by the courts after the tailings pond incident of 2008. The tour was fascinating for me because of the cross over between our university and college programming.  Louis Dingley, Chair of University Studies Science and Environmental Technology, shared a statistic that surprised me: for every Professional Engineer, three Engineering Technologists are needed to support that role which shows how interdependent colleges and universities really are.

Keyano College bring hands on education to another level with their Oil Sands Power and Process Engineering Lab, a $29-million dollar facility that allows students to operate a plant from start-up to shut-down on a daily basis. At a real plant in Fort McMurray there is no time for emergency shut downs. Real shut downs waste thousands of dollars. This plant allows these emergencies to be simulated and training to be tailored around the student’s skill level to prepare them for any scenario. One of the instructors – a retired Process Engineer, was the perfect example to illustrate the labour market trends we discussed at the beginning of our tour: he had enjoyed an international career and was scooped up out of retirement to pass on his experience to a new generation of process engineers.  

Although technical training like this is important, the ability to communicate was highlighted as the most important skills beyond any other. Complex organizations have a dynamic mix of people making them run effectively. The ability to communicate with inter-disciplinary colleagues and cross-functional teams means everyone from public relations to distribution is working toward the same goal, despite their differing viewpoints. Professionals need to be knowledgeable in their field but also need to understand a problem from multiple perspectives and explain their knowledge in a non-technical way.

Although I was aware that soft skills are important in the workplace, hearing this message from a very technical, industry perspective was great reinforcement for the advising I do. The whole experience was myth busting and enlightening. To challenge your own biases toward the oil industry and create your own memories, consider contacting the University of Alberta Oil Sands Student Delegation to learn how you can explore Fort McMurray and see what the big town that has it all has to offer. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Book Review - Lean In for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg

This week's post comes from Christine Gertz, Library and Information Specialist with CAPS.

Lean In for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg and Others. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Since its appearance in early 2013, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has sparked debate and discussions, not only about the encouragement the book gives to women to devote energy to their careers, while also encouraging both men and women to treat women more fairly in the workplace and at home, but also about the privilege of the book’s superstar author, Sheryl Sandberg. (Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, was ranked number one on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful Women in Business, and recently lost her status as a billionaire when Facebook’s stock decreased in value.) If you haven’t heard about Lean In, it is possible that you have seen Sandberg’s original talk on TED, which has now collected over 4 million viewers.

Lean In for Graduates includes the original Lean In content, with the addition of about one hundred new pages of content. These new chapters include personal stories about career and life setbacks, advice on job seeking for graduates, and two chapters on salary and negotiation skills. The whole book is highly accessible and well written, including autobiographical examples, as well as examples from research.

Sandberg uses a metaphor for careers and career development, a jungle gym, which is similar to the model developed by CAPS. For Sandberg, she didn’t plan her career path, and recommends that readers move up, laterally and down, if needed, to move toward the career you want.  Sandberg also recommends seizing opportunities, as well as developing focus and “leaning in”, as is the case when she describes the advice she was given when she hesitated over taking her initial position at Google: “If offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” She also states that risk aversion, as well as underestimating one’s abilities, can hold a person back from career momentum, including this advice from research at Hewlett Packard which showed that men would apply for a position if they had 60% of the requirements of the posting, while women would only apply if they had 100%. However, when the discrepancy was revealed, women began applying more for positions where they had most of the criteria, but did not cut themselves out of the competition when they did not have it all.

For grads, the message of plans don’t always work out or that make a plan plus a contingency and reevaluate, as well as taking chances when the rewards are worth the risks, is good advice. Sandberg also suggests that coming together to discuss career and workplace issues, the Lean In Circles that were formed in the wake of the original book, are also a viable idea for grads who are looking for encouragement, support and advice. If you read the original Lean In and enjoyed it and if you were looking for a graduation gift for a career-minded grad, Lean In for Graduates includes plenty of good advice and encouragement for the graduate audience.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Career Highlights and Myths Exposed in Fort McMurray – Part 1

Today's post is from Amy Roy Gratton, Experiential Learning Coordinator with CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre.

One of my favourite things about being a career advisor is the chance to explore different careers first-hand. My role at CAPS is to coordinate programs that get students out of the classroom to experience careers themselves so it’s only fitting that I sometimes get out of my office to do the same!

Last month I was one of 24 people chosen to participate in the Oil Sands Careers Education Program hosted by Inside Education, an Alberta-based not-for-profit organization whose mission is to make first-hand environmental and natural resources education accessible to teachers so that they can bring real-life experiences to students in the classroom.
The tour was two-fold: To experience the life of a commuting employee and learn the technical terms and challenges within the oil sands industry. To experience the life of a commuter, we boarded a charter flight with North Cariboo Air from the Edmonton International Airport to Fort McMurray which took 1 hour and 10 minutes. In my past life as a Human Resources Recruiter for Western Canada I took over 500 commercial flights. I can’t begin to describe the ease of flying with a charter airline from a passenger perspective. There is very little waiting around – arrive, check-in, fly out! When you’re commuting weekly into Fort McMurray I can see why the expense of charter flights is justified. Once up in the air it was a thrill for me to see the changing landscape from Edmonton’s farming quadrants to northern Alberta’s forest packed landscape.

When we arrived in Fort McMurray we were picked up and transported by Diversified Transportation, a company that employs 3,500 employees and has been transporting employees from their homes or camps to worksites throughout Fort McMurray since 1967. I held my breath as the bus turned on to the infamous Highway 63. Judging from the line up of cars on the highway, I could immediately see why the pressures exist to twin the highway. As I came to find out, the worksites have introduced many educational campaigns aimed at changing driver behaviors including driver fatigue, passing aggressively, speeding and distraction.   
Our tour continued at SAGD Operations (pronounced: sagg-dee) also known as In situ Operations (Latin for “in place”) run by Connacher. This plant is located one hour outside of Fort McMurray city limits where we got to see everything from the accordion pipelines that expand and contract with weather conditions to the final oil product that gets shipped by truckload for sale.
That evening we spent the night at a camp where we got to see how companies set themselves apart by creating a supportive, clean, nutritious environment for their staff. Managed by GRC Camp Services, camp life is not at all what I expected. I expected to be roughing it “camping style.” Instead I had a small hotel-style room including a bed, a shared bathroom, a television, desk, closet and sink – everything I would need for a comfortable rest before the next 12-14 hour shift. The supper, a seafood medley and pork tenderloin, was prepared by culinary trained professionals and was the best thing I had tasted in months! Menus are planned in detail to include all food groups with two entrees each (like herb crusted lamb chops and slow roasted prime rib with Yorkshire pudding) and side dishes to complement the meal! Although employees are there to make a living, Connacher focuses on giving them a life which also includes a workout facility, pool tables and a mini movie theatre.

Because of its remote location, Connacher places special emphasis on wildlife interactions and survival –
both for humans and animals. From a recruitment point of view it was interesting to hear that when deciding between two applicants, if one has spent time camping and exploring the outdoors and has equal theoretical knowledge to someone who is not familiar with the outdoors, the lover of the outdoors has the advantage. The first-hand outdoor education provides the employee with the know-how of how to deal with wildlife encounters that are very common up north.

The next day we set off for a tour of Syncrude where mining and processing bitumen is a 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 day operation. One truck filled with bitumen is worth $20,000. In the 15 minutes we were there I saw three pass by. Each tire those trucks is $50,000 and there are six on each truck! The Syncrude tour was informative and addressed many myths regarding tailings ponds and reclamation.

Across the road from the active mining site is Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch. Wood bison, once native to the area, were thought to be extinct until 1957. The current herd of 300 bison was recovered from 31 animals loaned from the Elk Island National Park in 1993. I was inspired by the transformation from tailings pond to nature reserve working to nurture the growth of a once endangered species.

Having been a commuting employee for less than 48 hours I came to realize that this life is not for everyone. However, those who have dedicated themselves to their work and made this their life do really love it. Fort McMurray was built on innovation and we saw examples of this everywhere. To get the full picture, make time to visit the big town by applying for the University of Alberta Oil Sands Student Delegation. Fort McMurray is full of enthusiastic people, eager to share their story of how the town welcomes commuters, both near and far.