Into the wind - increase workflow, efficiency and hireability
An unprecedented pandemic; a difficult economic outlook; global uncertainty — these overwhelming challenges call for innovation and insight. They also call for conversation, discussion and debate — for gaining personal perspectives from people on the frontlines.
Gursh Bal (left) and Kai Fahrion (right) knew that, when they graduated from SAIT’s Electrician Apprenticeship program, they wanted to work for a business that used natural resources in a responsible way. So after they finished their studies, they created their own renewable energy company.
In April 2015, Fahrion (AELP ’15) and Bal (PELP ’12, AELP ’15) co-founded Virtuoso Energy, now a leading business in Calgary’s renewable energy sector that specializes in the design, procurement and construction of solar panels, LED upgrades and electric vehicle charging stations.
Here, the 2019 Outstanding Young Alumni recipients provide an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities they’ve identified within their burgeoning sector.
What challenges did you face within the energy industry when you started Virtuoso Energy in 2015?
The short answer: The volatility of oil prices.
The details: Back then, Fahrion and Bal say, they encountered a “why bother” mindset among Albertans when it came to renewable energy.
“Everyone was so comfortable with the lifestyle the energy industry brought,” says Fahrion. “People weren’t willing to adapt to using renewables, because they were so used to the boom-and-bust cycles that Alberta goes through. It’s hard to bring something new into your life when you’re comfortable with how things are.”
What are the current challenges?
The short answer: Misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The details: Bal and Fahrion say a big challenge right now is the misconception that renewable energy will completely replace fossil fuels, thus replacing all oil and gas jobs.
“I see some fear that oil and gas jobs are threatened by renewable energy. But renewables are designed to work in conjunction with pre-existing energy,” says Bal. “Solar panels won’t work under two feet of snow right now — but natural gas works in that situation. That’s where there’s that balance between the two energy sources working together.”
Fahrion adds that engaging in conversation with those who voice fears or misunderstandings of the renewable energy sector — particularly over professional platforms like LinkedIn — can help mitigate that confusion.
What role does upskilling play in future-proofing the renewable energy industry as a whole?
The short answer: Increasing workflow efficiency and increasing hireability.
The details: Bal says digital skills — like using project management software to manage new clients — are integral to efficient daily operations in the renewable energy business. And, he says, having these base skills will help professionals quickly adapt as new technologies emerge within the industry.
“Learning digital skills is important because the renewable energy industry is only just getting its legs. We don’t know its full potential yet or where that technology will go,” says Bal. “I see SAIT’s new School for Advanced Digital Technology as teaching a base set of skills that are required for the future in our industry — otherwise you won’t have a position.”
Into the wind series
LINK magazine reached out to eight past recipients of SAIT’s Alumni Awards, asking for their advice on meeting the future, head-on. Dive into the series, Into the wind...
- Develop technical literacy – SAIT graduate Heather Culbert shares a strategy for success through broadening your skillset and developing technology literacy, regardless of your field
- Stay on the cutting edge – SAIT alumnus Ryan Scott shares tips for staying ahead of the curve in the construction industry and how innovation can make a company thrive.
- Approach work with energy, enthusiasm, and a smile – Alumnus Matt Squires shares his top takeaway tips from his own experiences and challenges in the hospitality and tourism industry.
- Relationships create connections through new channels – Josh Traptow (AIM ’11) shares the impact of COVID-19 on non-profits and how they can harness digital initiatives to build new connections.
- Be as technically savvy as possible – Energy industry insider and SAIT graduate Keith MacPhail speaks about the influence and vitality of technology in the energy industry.
- Increase workflow, efficiency and hireability – SAIT grads Gursh Bal and Kai Fahrion provide an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities they’ve identified within the renewable energy sector.