Energy Careers: Alberta’s Path Forward

16 May 2024

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Alberta’s long history of innovation and collaboration continues to shape its ever-growing energy industry. Join co-hosts Lora Bucsis and Pat Hufnagel-Smith as they discuss the impact of the latest technological advancements and environmental considerations on the labour market within the province’s energy sector. You’ll discover how adaptability and transferable skills can help you navigate emerging energy careers — and the industry’s increasingly integrated landscape.  

Listen to the latest episode of The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed to get insights into the needs of an evolving workforce and how the energy industry is leveraging new and existing technologies for a better tomorrow. 


  • Executive Producer and Host: Lora Bucsis 
  • Co-Host: Zachary Novak 
  • Co-Host: Pat Hufnagel-Smith
  • Producer and Creative Director: Terran Anthony Allen 
  • Technical Producer: Jenna Smith 
  • Senior Marketing Strategist: James Boon 
  • Podcast Consultant: Roger Kingkade 
  • Voice Over: Beesley 

Funding Partners

The Province of Alberta is working in partnership with the Government of Canada to provide employment support programs and services. 

Lora Bucsis

Lora has always been a champion for forging one’s own path. A non-traditional, lifelong learner herself, Lora leads the team at SAIT responsible for educational products and learner success in Continuing Education and Professional Studies. Wildly curious about how jobs change over time, Lora believes that learning for 21st-century careers needs to come in several different forms from a number of different avenues. When she’s not binge-listening to podcasts or driving her teenagers around, you’ll find her hiking in Alberta’s backcountry — or falling off her bike.

Zachary Novak

Zachary is the Founder of Careers in Technology and Innovation (CITI), an online community that supports experienced professionals find and grow careers in technology. Through Careers in Technology and Innovation, Zachary has hosted over 150 events and has helped over 120 people land roles in tech.

Zachary is a community professional, also providing community consulting work through FML Studios Inc. Zachary was previously the Director of Community at RevvGo, Director of Product at, and spent seven years in investment banking. Zachary holds degrees in engineering, business administration, and is a software development bootcamp graduate.

Pat Hufnagel-Smith 

Pat Hufnagel-Smith, Managing Partner at Creative Links International Inc. since 2002, expanded the organization's services to include project management and labour market research. With a background in Human Resources, she's passionate about skilled worker transition and using labour market intelligence to develop evidence-based action plans. Pat holds a Masters Certificate in Project Management, a BA in Sociology and a Certificate in Adult Education and Facilitation.   

SAIT Podcast: Energy Careers: Alberta’s Path Forward

[00:00:00] ANNCR: The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed Podcast's Energy Series, brought to you by SAIT, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. This podcast serves as your guide to careers in Alberta's landscape. In this season, we're focusing on the energy sector. Join us for conversations with experts, leaders, and individuals who have insights into Alberta's evolving energy industry. Together, we'll discover invaluable insights to help you chart a path toward a brand-new career.

[00:00:30] LORA: Hi, I'm Lora, and I'm the Director for Product and Learner Success with Continuing Education and Professional Studies at SAIT. And today, I'd like to introduce you to Pat Hufnagel-Smith, who is our new co host on The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed.

[00:00:50] Now, a lot of you might be wondering, what happened to Zach? And the answer is nothing. He is still working with us to co host podcast episodes that are dedicated to tech and to digital careers. But we wanted to recognize that Alberta and Calgary as a leader in the global energy environment, Alberta is Canada's largest oil and natural gas producer.

[00:01:18] We also know that careers are changing exponentially currently, and, and there's a lot of change going on. So if you are interested, Calgary Economic Development has some great data supporting that you know, currently we're looking at a number of things affecting the oil and gas industry and careers in oil and gas.

And I can't think of a better person to help me get the word out and co host this podcast than Pat. And so really, we just I just wanted to get to know Pat a little bit more and then we're going to be kicking off all kinds of interesting conversations about different careers in oil and gas and energy.

[00:01:57] PAT: You bet. Thanks, Lora. I’m very pleased to be here and to be co hosting this podcast. My first, you know, in terms of doing podcasts, so very excited. Yeah so, for the last, probably 25 years, I’ve really focused on providing talent solutions for the energy industry, and that sounds so sort of simple, but I'll have to say that the last Decade or so.

[00:02:32] Anyways, it's been anything but simple given, you know, sort of how, you know, some of the things that the energy industry has gone through and then sort of where we're at today in terms of, as you said, pretty rapidly evolving and changing and growing and diversifying. And so, it's a very exciting place to be working.

[00:02:57] A lot of the projects that I work on are probably different than what people might think from a traditional human resources perspective. A lot of my work focuses on trying to anticipate what kind of occupations and skills might be required for Canada, Alberta's future energy industry. And so, what that means is I'm trying to stay half a step ahead to understand where's the industry heading and what does that mean from a talent perspective.

[00:03:35] I get to work with industry organizations, companies, institutions like SAIT to put in place the solutions needed to, you know, try to be proactive around the kinds of skills. That might need to be available in the labor market to address kind of what's required by an evolving energy ecosystem. And then probably one of the hardest jobs is actually trying to quantify what the workforce requirements are for a future energy industry.

And so, you know, that's trying to get. a handle on where's the industry heading, what kinds of occupations may be required, and then how many of those occupations is required to work in the industry. So very interesting. And yet there's some challenges there because it's a little bit of crystal ball gazing in terms of trying to figure out where we're going, but maybe boring if we knew exactly what was going to happen.

[00:04:48] LORA: And so I, love your story of how you got into this, or do you want to maybe kind of just talk a little bit about how you got into this? 

[00:04:57] PAT: I have been doing it for quite some time. And I have to say that, I mean, I think I've always been interested in sort of the world of work. I've always. I've had the privilege of really enjoying the work that I'm doing.

[00:05:10] And so I think that kind of felt like by doing this work, it gave me an opportunity to kind of help others, you know, maybe learn more about work opportunities and sort of careers that they might find fulfilling and meaningful. I just think this is totally my perspective, but I think if you're, you're happy and feeling fulfilled in the work that you're doing, that goes a long way in terms of just feeling good about yourself and sort of managing day to day.

[00:05:45] So my journey into the energy industry was really, uh, somebody I've worked with in the past who had an oil and gas background, who was in a position with a new company or a new to Calgary company that was looking for somebody to come in and kind of in an HR consulting kind of role and she just sponsored me into the company without me necessarily knowing a whole lot about the oil and gas industry, but she saw some of those transferable skills in terms of what I could bring to the table. So, she sponsored me into a position within the company, a real learning curve in terms of learning the business, but it really also sort of had me appreciate that somebody looked at what did I bring to the table and where could I fit.

[00:06:37] So that's also been a real cornerstone of some of the work that I do in terms of I think one of my passions is to try and keep our labour market as optimised as possible and trying to match people with those transferable skills within our labour markets different industries, because we know industries sort of go through cycles, certainly in the oil and gas industry, but we see it in any of our commodity industries, pulp and paper or forestry, that kind of stuff. So yeah, another real passion of mine is trying to really look at that transfer ability so that we're really sort of tapping into the talent that's available to us and trying to optimize our labor market.

[00:07:31] LORA: Well, and I think when you and I first met, you told me a story of one of the first things that you worked on was mapping transferable skills from other industries into the energy industry at a time when there were very big labor shortages in terms of attracting people to oil and gas. And so maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the shifts that we've seen in the energy industry over the last few years, because, you know, I think anybody who's living in Calgary knows it's been a little bit of a wild ride, you know, I think that your perspective on how that's affected sort of our labor force. 

[00:08:07] PAT: Absolutely. I mean, I think you're talking about, well, I know you're talking about a project I worked on where it was at the height of development of Alberta's oil sands. And really, we saw a number of projects that were ramping up and just the need for hundreds, if not thousands, of workers. And that wasn't just construction workers.

[00:08:29] There was certainly that required, but also to fill those long-term operations jobs. At the same time, we were seeing pulp and paper. plants closed down because of market conditions around that. We were seeing coal fired power plants closing down, refineries closing down. And so, you know, that really was an opportunity to kind of look at this other industrial skilled workforce.

[00:09:01] Matching those workers that were displaced in those other industries into oil sands. And so, yeah, certainly looked at opportunities to bring workers into the energy sector. And then, as you said, you know, I think when we met, it was because we were in a place where the oil and gas industry was laying off thousands of workers and really trying to understand where are the opportunities to place those workers impacted by the downturn in the oil and gas industry in other sectors across Alberta within Calgary that were, that was needing workers.

[00:09:44] So. It certainly is kind of a really dynamic place to work, because here we are today, the energy industry is very much needing workers again. But a big part of it is, the energy industry that we saw in 2014, 2015, 2016, that was laying off workers is not the energy industry that we, that we have today.

[00:10:10] And so again, we're trying to understand what does that workforce need? Where are potential talent pools? What's sort of evolving in terms of what we, what's required by our energy industry? Which is. You know, beyond just our oil and gas industry anymore. And so, it certainly is, as you say, ups and downs and very dynamic in terms of trying to leverage the talent that we have and making sure that they're kind of considering options that maybe they didn't consider before.

[00:10:48] LORA: What do you think are the biggest differences? Like if we think of pre downturn, you know, where there were labor shortages and it was all hands on deck and we couldn't get enough people. What do you think are the biggest differences from then to now? Because my feeling is it's a very different industry. The talent is different, the labor is different. Like it's still very busy, but it's a very different, it feels very different. 

[00:11:12] PAT: I think we started to see a bit of a shift. Even pre COVID, where I think certainly as the price of oil dropped in 2015, 2016, where industry was moving away from a business model, where it was add production at all costs, but when a barrel of oil is a hundred dollars or higher, that really was sort of the mentality of the industry was add to production, That was their pathway to profitability.

[00:11:49] And so I think what we're seeing now is a very different business model where it's not production at all costs. It's more about providing value. And I think some of our investors, some of the investors within the energy industry and the general public is saying, and value looks different. It's not just the dollars.

[00:12:14] It's also those things that we use to define a sustainable energy system. Well, it's reliable and it's affordable. And there's a sense of energy security because we lost some of that sense of energy security with Russia invading the Ukraine and even what we're seeing in the Middle East happening right now.

[00:12:36] So I think the value and how companies are defining value. Some of it's because of the pressure, like you said, from investors and from the general public is different and that's driving occupations, how companies do business and technologies that are being leveraged and, and those kinds of things. I think we're also seeing an energy industry that is becoming more diversified, in some ways more integrated. For example, we're talking about the use of low carbon hydrogen to help decarbonize our economy in certain sectors that are just not economically or technical.

[00:13:27] And so, but here in Alberta, you don't have hydrogen, low carbon hydrogen without natural gas or without carbon capture and storage. So, you start to see how these pieces of the puzzle have to come together in order to sort of decarbonize our energy system. The same with, um, petroleum products, refining petroleum products and using traditional petroleum refinery and co processing with biomass feedstocks so that we're producing a lower carbon fuels for again, transportation and aviation and, and all of those kinds of things.

[00:14:07] So very integrated. becoming much more diversified. But the other very interesting thing is how we're leveraging, you know, maybe the more traditional equipment and technologies and those kinds of things. Like we want geothermal renewable energy. Well, you're still drilling wells. You're still completing those wells.

[00:14:31] Same with carbon capture and storage. The wells that are used for sequestration, they're using the same kind of rigs and technologies, and workforce as is used to drill oil and gas wells. So, lots of very kind of interesting sort of integrations across the energy system. It's not siloed at all.

[00:14:58] LORA: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think you touched on a lot of good points around the value and the purpose I think of energy companies is. Is evolved to become more around diversification of energy around providing that energy security, providing kind of profit and value back, you know, my perspective is that there's also a difference in terms of how these energy are used.

[00:15:25] Companies are working with the communities that they're producing on, producing with, contributing to, and I think from my perspective, that's been a shift that, you know, started before, before the downturn, but it's certainly been more prevalent in terms of when we talk about diversity, there's also that, you know, diversity of how they work with the communities that, that they're operating on and around and with.

[00:15:51] PAT: Absolutely. And some will maybe lump that into some of the movements related to ESG and that kind of stuff. But I think at the end of the day, whether you put a ESG label on it or not, I think again, it's going back to mitigating risks and some of those risks are associated with doing business in the energy industry or developing projects.

[00:16:20] The risks are not just financial anymore. It's about sort of those potential risks associated with social impacts that, as you say, communities just are not interested in not having a say in terms of what development relate around their communities look like the whole recognition of Indigenous People's and Indigenous communities are not simply stakeholders in energy development. They are rights holders and therefore that relationship looks very different. And then obviously there's a lot of expectations around developing our energy resources or natural resources in general in a very environmentally safe manner.

[00:17:13] And that's not just what are we are doing today that might be environmentally safe but having that long term view in terms of ensuring that environmental impacts are mitigated for generations to come. So totally agree. There are all those aspects that are very different and impacting how the industry does business. And again, providing some very interesting career opportunities. 

[00:17:46] LORA: So for our listeners, can you explain the acronym ESG? 

[00:17:49] PAT: You bet. So ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance. And again, there are factors that are becoming more and more prominent in terms of potential risks to development that it's no longer just is a project economically viable because that used to be what banks or financers or capital investors used to be worried about is, will this project make money?

[00:18:26] And there certainly has been a trend related to the other factors that could be risky. In terms of the success of a project, are you taking care of the environmental impact? Are you considering the potential social impact? And then governance is a lot around in terms of how are you managing the business?

[00:18:51] And so it's been a number of years. There's certainly more sort of measurements that have been in place and the expectation that companies are not just saying we're doing all these things responsibly, but are actually providing the data and the proof that they are considering. environmental, social and impacts and, and their governance structure, ensuring that it is transparent and there's integrity behind that. Again, investors, the public are all placing that pressure, not just on the energy industry, but I think across all industries. 

[00:19:34] LORA: So, what do you think sets Alberta's energy industry apart? 

[00:19:38] PAT: I think we've had such a history of innovation here. I think that oil sands, for example, was, you know, such a technical challenge at the time, and there was sort of a movement and collaboration between government and academia and industry to come together to understand how to feasibly produce those oil sands, develop and produce from oil sands.

[00:20:11] Many people won't know this because they're not as old as I, but the big liquefied natural gas export facility that is LNG Canada that's about to become operational on BC's west coast. When it was first planned, it was planned as an import facility because we were running out of natural gas. We had produced kind of what was technically feasible.

[00:20:42] And so the industry developed horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. And we now have very prolific natural gas reserves and fields because that technology has opened up production that wasn't available before. And then you look at carbon capture and storage, and we've had carbon capture and storage projects operational for almost a decade same with hydrogen.

[00:21:14] Alberta has been one of the top producers of hydrogen in Canada and Canada itself is in the top 10 producers globally. So, we have a lot of innovation and resources and expertise right here in Alberta, and not to say that what we've done historically around some of those technologies, oil sands, hydraulic fracturing, not that we don't have to do those better and continue to innovate, because I believe we do, but I think I'm not sure most Albertans realize how much innovation around our energy system we have right here in Alberta. 

[00:22:00] LORA: Yeah, absolutely. And for our listeners, if you haven't listened to the Energy Needs Tech episode with Zach, Pat and I, you should, because I think there's some real insights in there in terms of how innovative the energy industry actually is and how they're leveraging technology to achieve a lot of their goals across the board. And it's not just the producers that are doing it, it's across the entire value chain of oil and gas, which is really, really exciting. So Pat, what advice would you give to someone who might be considering or not considering a career in the energy sector? What advice would you give to someone to think about it?

[00:22:40] PAT: I think I would start with learning about our energy industry and where we're headed, not necessarily where we've been, because as we've talked about a lot in this podcast, there are some fundamental shifts in terms of what Canada and Alberta's energy system is going to look like. And I think by Understanding sort of how things are evolving, I think that it will help to understand where are some of those careers, and there's a broad range of them, that are going to be needed regardless of how the energy industry evolves over time, because at the end of the day, we're still need facilities to produce energy, we need to operate and maintain those facilities.

[00:23:38] We need to engineer our systems to be sustainable, regardless of what the system is. And so, there's so many occupations that just have application across the energy system, not just today, but in the future. I don't know about you Lora, but I think most people want to know, if I train to go into this occupation, I want to know I can build a long term career.

[00:24:10] And I think there's just tremendous opportunity to build a long-term career within the energy industry. So do homework that way, but also it's about understanding, as with any career industry, that it's going to be a lifelong learning, and as the industry evolves, that's just going to be an opportunity to leverage what you've learned, maybe to do some upskilling or some reskilling to kind of take on, take on the next adventure.

[00:24:43] But I'm really excited about sort of how the industry is evolving, how it's leveraging those skills. Occupations that we can see and know exist today, and then some of those ones that are emerging and supporting the new business models, like how do we engineer a more sustainable system? How do we track emissions?

[00:25:07] How do we report emissions? How do we engage with those communities that we spoke about saying they, want and we need to gather their SAIT in terms of what projects look like. Like there's just so much that really provides the interesting career opportunities and long-term resilient careers in the industry.

[00:25:30] LORA: I always think about it from a value and purpose sort of perspective as well. And to me, the opportunity to be part of decarbonization while still providing energy security is a unique opportunity that folks who are in that industry have an opportunity to create an effect and given what's going on in the world and how Canada's position, we're in a unique position to really come to the world with solutions to those problems. And everybody who's part of that is contributing to that story. And I just think there's nothing more impactful right now for our generation than that purpose. So, I think it's a really kind of big deal, interesting thing to lean into.

[00:26:19] PAT: I agree totally. I think, I think it's a misconception that all the solutions to our climate challenges or the need to decarbonize our energy industry is going to come from outside of the industry. I think they're going to come, the solutions are going to come from inside the industry, just as we spoke about addressing concerns about oil production or natural gas production. We have a history of that innovation. And I believe a lot of the solutions are going to come from within the industry. And that's a tremendous opportunity for people to be part of the solution. 

[00:27:01] LORA: Yeah, absolutely. So, not that we want to give too many teasers, but can you talk a little bit about what do you see as some of the emerging careers?

[00:27:10] PAT: I think that it's not just what's happening in Alberta, but I think if you pay attention to what the International Energy Agency is saying is we won't hit our climate targets without carbon capture and storage. Alberta already has a lot of experience and expertise in deploying carbon that technology.

[00:27:35] And so I think there's going to be opportunity and emerging occupations related to the deployment of CCS here in Alberta. And so, I think that you'll be kind of cool to talk about that. And I think what might be surprising for people is that some of the occupations sound a lot like job titles that you might hear in the established industry but of course, there, you know, applying those skills and in a different way. I think also the conversation related to ESG and what the energy industry needs to do in order to ensure that deploying technologies, developing the energy system in a way that's environmentally and socially responsible, as well as pays attention to all those things key governance factors.

[00:28:29] There's a whole bunch of occupations that are being generated because of that work, producing low carbon hydrogen as a solution, producing biomass-based fuels as part of our energy diversification and, and leading us to low emissions. fuels, like there's just so many opportunities and, and sort of interesting occupations on the horizon.

[00:29:00] LORA: Well, I'm really looking forward to diving into this with you. And thanks so much for agreeing to be co host on the future energy series. And for anybody that's listening, please do check out the energy needs tech episode that we did with Zac, cause I think, you know, for anybody who's kind of bridging that sort of, Oh, I think I might If you look for tech or you know, where could that go?

[00:29:24] I think that provides a lot of insight. Now, Pat, do you want to talk a little bit about your work and the some of the services that you provide career seekers and people who really want to understand more about careers and energy. Cause I know there's more that you do more than just this podcast and kind of watch labor trends that you actually actively help people kind of connect to their passion and their work.

[00:29:48] So maybe do we want to kind of finish off with some of that? 

[00:29:52] PAT: Absolutely. So Creative Links has had the opportunity to secure some funding through the Alberta government with a specific objective to create meaningful connections between employers and the talent that's here in Alberta.

[00:30:10] Well, talent is interested in learning more about the energy industry and working in the energy industry. So, we do a couple of things around that. One is we produce a newsletter that really tries to keep talent at the forefront of knowing what's happening with the energy industry, but also some of the things that are happening in the training space and where they might be able to take relatively short, affordable courses to learn more about, you know, how the energy industry is evolving, but even develop some of the skills and competencies to help them build that resilient career. And of course, SAIT, we've been working with SAIT on some courses that at least till the end of March are free to take.

[00:31:05] And so we do that kind of work and try to keep talent connected with the training opportunities. We have a talent survey where we're really trying to gather intel about the talent that's available in Alberta, because more and more, just like everything else, where, companies are trying to make data, um, driven decisions about how to best recruit and attract workers and that kind of stuff.

[00:31:37] There's not a lot of places where there is data about the talent available. And so, we're trying to provide, we're trying to gather that information through this survey so we can share it with employers and let them know about where there's pockets of talent that might be a good match for their needs, especially in some of the job postings that they're having real sort of challenges trying to fill.

[00:32:02] And then last but not least for us, the cream of the crop is forums where we do bring employers together. With talent interested in connecting with energy employers, some people might hear that and think, Oh, well, that's a job fair. Well, it's really not. We are very targeted in terms of how we do our forums, and so what we do is, you know, we partner with organizations like SAIT, like CITI, other training programs that we're aware of, to really try and find pockets of talent with some specific skill sets and then invite them to sessions with employers that are specifically looking for those skill sets.

[00:32:51] So the Energy Needs Tech Talent Forum that we hosted in October, and there'll be more upcoming, it really was bringing Energy employers together that hires tech talent with tech talent. So, it's different, it's targeted, it's purposely small. So, some of those meaningful connections can be made and just kind of help facilitate networking between, you know, the talent that's available and the employers that are looking to, to fill positions. 

[00:33:28] LORA: Yeah. What I love about the work that you do and Creative Links does is that it really marries the data. And the analysis with the, here's what we need to do now, and to your point, very precise, small, creating human connections, but fueled by a lot of great data that informs kind of where things are going and what folks need.

[00:33:51] So if folks are interested, we'll have links to Pat’s newsletter, ways to get a hold of her resources in the resources list. So please reach out to Pat if you're interested in that, and then subscribe to receive updates from this podcast. If you are interested in following more about what's going on in the energy industry and the, the emerging careers and the careers that you didn't know existed.

[00:34:15] PAT: I appreciate the opportunity and I look forward to, you know, connecting on future podcasts and connecting with listeners that may be interested in getting involved in some of our activities. 

[00:34:30] ANNCR: The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed Podcast powered by SAIT, funded by the government of Alberta. Have a career suggestion or want to appear as a guest? Get in touch, email or reach out directly to Lora Bucsis on LinkedIn. Rate and review this podcast, and you might find your review read on a future episode. Please subscribe to The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed, wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. The Best Careers You Never Knew Existed Podcast, with Lora Bucsis and Pat Hufnagel-Smith. Produced by Terran Anthony Allen and Jenna Smith. Executive produced by Lora Bucsis. Special thanks to SAIT Radio for their support and the use of their studios. And most of all, thank you for listening!

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