Lloydminster – Despite layoffs in the oil and gas industry due to low commodity prices, many energy program students at Lakeland College in Lloydminster are finding full time and summer employment.
Third class heavy oil power engineering or HOPE students Dylan Young and Paul Wang are among those who credit their practicum job placements in industry for punching their career tickets when classes end in May.
Young and Wang were waiting for final confirmation of job offers from Husky Energy in early March and spoke about getting their foot in the door during their six week placements.
“I went through a practicum with this course, and I went through Husky which is a huge contributor to this course, and they liked me and called me back and gave me a job offer,” said Young.
If hired, he said he will be operating one of Husky’s steam-assisted gravity drainage or SAGD facility plants.
“I’ll be operating making steam in any plant they choose,” he said.
“I’ll be taking care of any of the water treatment, the boiler, the steam production – all that stuff.
“I did my best during my practicums, and hopefully they will call me back.”
Wang’s fingers are crossed that he will land his first job as a third class power engineer at the Lloydminster Husky Upgrader where he did his practicum.
“I spent three months at the upgrader last summer. I think it’s a good place to work,” he said.
“I got a Husky scholarship and they gave me a phone call, but I am still waiting for the confirmation.”
If he gets the job, he says it will likely be as operator.
Kara Johnston, dean of energy programming at the Lloydminster campus, is bullish on job prospects this year for energy students especially in thermal oil heavy.
“For example, Husky upstream has those five plants coming online in the Edam and Vawn area and there’s lots of opportunity there,” she said.
On the other hand, she said because of the downturn, practicum placements for third class HOPE grads aren’t as plentiful as they were in the past.
“A lot of that is due to competition now for those students because companies are now paying practicums for the third class students, so now there is a bit more of a competition to get them,” said explained.
Johnston noted the secret sauce for getting a job is a mix of initiative and leadership and the willingness to go the extra mile.
“That is what is always going to get you a job,” she said.
Young said his practicum was an opportunity to demonstrate his effectiveness as a potential employee that helped him to get the job offer.
“I would say that – the hard work that I put out – the ability to communicate with co-workers is a big one out there for sure and just knowing how to run your plant – always that work ethic showing you want to go out and go and figure stuff out,” he said.
Ditto for Wang who said, “I think I’m a hard workers and I learned many things from the different operators.
“I try to keep communication with different operators, and I learned some stuff because we are pretty new in the field. We need to learn some stuff.
“We learn stuff on the textbook, but it’s different. We need real working experience.”
Wang is originally from China and has lived in Lloydminster for the past five years.
Megan Morris is a first year heavy oil operations technician or HOOT student from Lloydminster.
She just got a summer job with Husky and plans to return in the fall to get her third class power engineering ticket in the HOPE program.
“It’s ridiculous and I am so lucky that I could manage to get this,” she said after a lengthy job search.
“I’ve been keeping my eye out for summer student jobs since October and Husky’s the right company, so I’ve always been wanting to work with them.
“I am going to be getting my steam time for my second year. It’s a SAGD plant, so I will be working with a lot of steam and oil processing.
“Hopefully, I can make a really good impression and hopefully they want me back after my second year.”
Morris completed her practicum on a SAGD plant with another company in southern Saskatchewan.
She came into the HOOT program after four years of working for a pipeline inspection company.
Her timing was good, as it’s getting tougher to enrol by this fall.
“Our waiting list is huge,” said Johnston.
“We are increasing our numbers again for next fall. We have two first year HOPE classes starting Aug. 10 as well as the HOOT class.
“Then we have two second year HOPE classes starting after the long weekend in September.”
Johnston added that economic downturns always lead to increased enrolment in post-secondary education.
“People realize that the people that are going to be successful through this are the ones who are dedicated to their training, and are the ones that have a leg up on the job market,” she said.
Six energy program students were awarded scholarships on March 11 at the Lloydminster campus.
“It’s those students who work hard in school and work hard on their practicum and who are willing to take a bit of a leadership role,” said Johnston.
“Those students are the ones who are going to be successful in the long run.”
Johnson added that the downturn is an opportunity for those employees who excel and work hard.
“It’s an opportunity for them to shine. Typically, in our community the employee has had a bit of a leg up over the employer, and now it’s a case where the employers have the opportunity to retain their best employees,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a wakeup call for our labour force that you have to work hard and you have to be committed when you go to work every day.
“That’s the message we are sending to our students.”
She said the best thing about practicums is that they`re like a job interview.
“So employers have an opportunity to meet students to see them firsthand and to take a look at their work ethic,” said Johnston.
“It’s an opportunity for students to see what the real work world looks like.”
First year practicums are staggered from October through January. Second year practicums take place over the summer between first and second programs or they can be taken post-second year.
Twenty-eight-year-old HOOT student Dan Boschman did his practicum and is hedging his career options during the downturn.
“Last summer, I was working up north and it was very productive and profitable and now it’s taken a hike,” he said.
“I did apply for another year here. I am waiting on entrance requirements and acceptance.
“I’m going to be hunting for jobs, and if I can’t find any I will try to come back here and do another year,” he said.
That way, he can upgrade from a fourth class power engineer to a third class in the HOPE program.
Boschman bought a house in Sherwood Park and was primed in March to fire off resumés in that general direction where he has worked before.
“I am looking heavily into the heavy oil construction plants – so Husky – but more so in Edmonton – Shell Scotford, Suncor or Esso – those kind of refineries,” he said.
He said the key to finding a job is having a good resumé, good contacts and a good reference.
Boschman had five years of industrial electrical work under his belt when he came to Lakeland with hopes of starting a steady career in power engineering.
“We’re learning quite a bit of things from pumps to pressures and all the vital things to start you on your way to becoming a process power engineer,” he said while preparing for HOOT midterms.
Young and Wang also attribute their early success to the quality of teaching at Lakeland.
“This is an awesome course – awesome teachers. They teach you very well,” said Young.
“The skills I’ve got from this course coming out – I would say the ability to quick think and solve problems.
“That’s a big one and using your brain in the right ways. They teach the knowledge of being a power engineer very well.”
Wang added that he found out during his practicum at Husky that the course “is pretty connected with the field there.
“In class, we learn some stuff about the Husky upgrader and our material is actually a training manual.”
In other news, Lakeland is working toward a grand opening of the new $23 million Energy Centre in late August or early September when government agencies, funders and students are available.
The commissioning of the new teaching boilers at the centre continued in March.