Featured Articles http://www.oilweek.com/articles.asp?ID=870
Source: Oilweek Magazine
by Jim Bentein
As the Alberta economy shifts into semi-boom mode again, thanks to accelerated oilsands development and unconventional oil and gas expansion, there will have to be more engineers to design the plants and the infrastructure needed to accommodate that growth-and that worries executives with the provincial association that represents engineers.
"Alberta´s situation is more acute than any other province in Canada," says Len Shrimpton, chief executive officer of the Edmonton-based Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA), the body responsible for licensing all engineers in the province and for providing ongoing training, as well as working with government, industry and educators to promote the profession. "The expectation is we could be several thousand engineers short in five to 10 years."
Shrimpton spends much of his time now focusing on workforce issues at APEGGA, since it is viewed as one of that association´s major concerns going forward.
"There are about 200,000 engineers and geoscientists in Canada," he says. "Alberta is the most engineering-intensive economy in the country, with 60,000 professional engineers, 45,000 of them practicing the profession. We expect 15,000 of those engineers to retire in the next five to 10 years. In addition, we expect there to be a growth in the demand for engineers because of energy-industry expansion."
The shortage of engineers is likely to even be more acute than in most energy industry-related jobs tracked by the Calgary-based Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada (PHRCC), a federal government and industry-funded body that tracks labour demand in the sector, he suggested.
The PHRCC predicts that those same factors-the aging of the Canadian population and the subsequent retirements of skilled workers and professionals, as well as expansion of the oilsands industry and other segments-will lead to a serious shortage of workers in the next decade and beyond.
In its study The Decade Ahead, the council forecasts a shortage of about 131,000 workers in the next 10 years in the energy industry, which now employs about 172,000 people in Canada.
The council tracks 36 occupations in its ongoing work, which leads to the annual report, which includes several engineering occupations, including automation engineers, chemical and process engineers, cost engineers, geotechnical engineers, mechanical engineers, pipeline engineers, petroleum engineers, geochemists and others.
"The oil and gas industry dominates the engineering profession in Alberta," says Shrimpton. "Often civil, mechanical and electrical engineers end up being hired by oil and gas companies and converted to petroleum engineers."
Alberta, along with the rest of the country, has never been able to provide enough engineers domestically, but that gap has historically been filled by recruitment of engineers from other countries.
Until perhaps 15 or 20 years ago, many of those professionals came from Europe. However, European countries, all faced with an aging demographic, have shortages themselves now.
Recruitment then shifted to Asia, with many engineers coming from China and India. But that will also be a problem in the future, says Shrimpton.
"The Alberta government is forecasting that in 10 years China will be in the same boat we are in now," he says.
Shrimpton says that 20 years ago, when he first joined APEGGA, about one-third of the province´s engineers came from within the province; one-third came from other provinces and one-third from outside of Canada.
"Now 40 per cent of our engineers come from overseas," he says.
APEGGA gives certification to an average of 6,000 engineers a year, with about 1,500 of those coming from within the province.
Reliability on immigration from other provinces is unlikely to be a good strategy.
Engineers Canada, the national body representing the 234,000 engineers in Canada, released a report in April that also warns that the impending retirements of thousands of engineers across the country will present a serious challenge. However, unlike APEGGA, it believes levels of current immigration and the graduation of engineers in Canadian universities will create a "balance" between supply and demand.
However, it also sees the supply tightening, especially in western Canada and especially among engineers employed in the oil and gas industry.
It also warns of "significant supply pressures" among engineers with more than 10 years of experience and supply pressures among those with over five years of experience.
To Shrimpton, the greatest challenge facing the profession is the loss of experienced engineers, familiar with the way of the the laws of the country and the way the profession functions in Canada.
For that reason, APEGGA is suggesting oil and gas companies and others that employ engineers consider such things as offering flexible work schedules and opportunities for experienced engineers to work from their homes or from winter escapes.
"We need to be concerned about transferring knowledge from experienced engineers to others entering the profession," he says, adding that APEGGA can play a role by offering seminars and other professional upgrading opportunities.
It also needs to strive to make APEGGA employees and the companies that employ engineers in the province more sensitive to the multicultural nature of many now in the profession in Canada.
"We´re working to make sure our website [www.apegga.com] and our literature are more immigrant-friendly, for example," Shrimpton says.
The organization is also working with engineering bodies in Asian countries, Latin America and elsewhere to try to establish international mobility agreements that will smooth the way for engineers from countries there to qualify more easily to obtain certification in Alberta. It has long had such an agreement with the United Kingdom.
In that regard, APEGGA has worked with the American Engineering Association, which has an examination it requires foreign-trained engineers to take to work in the United States.
"They have tens of thousands of people a month apply and they test all of them with the exam, so it only makes sense," Shrimpton says.
APEGGA also has a mentoring program, by which it matches newly arrived foreign-trained engineers with other foreign-trained engineers who have worked in Canada for a number of years.
The association has multi-pronged strategy for dealing with the impending shortage.
One aspect of that strategy is convincing the federal government to allow more foreign-trained engineers to emigrate to Canada. The government has a reasonably aggressive temporary foreign worker program, aimed mostly at filling unskilled worker positions and some trades positions, but APEGGA doesn´t believe its program to allow in permanent trained immigrants is adequate.
It also wants to see the Alberta government bump up funding for engineer training at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, the two post-secondary institutions in Alberta that train engineers.
"There are 7,000 undergraduates a year [in engineering programs] at the U of A [University of Alberta] and the U of C [University of Calgary]," Shrimpton says. "We want to see at least 2,000 more. If it did that, we would maintain the standard of having one-third of the engineers in the province trained here."
APEGGA also wants to see its 4,000 corporate members be more "flexible" in the way they employ women who are trained engineers, since many leave the profession after starting families because the companies they work for tend not to adjust their workloads to their new status as working mothers.
"About 20 per cent of engineering students at the undergraduate level are women, but as they progress only about 10-12 per cent stay in the field," he says.
The association also wants to attract more aboriginals to the professions and, in fact, has established an aboriginal affairs committee to aim at this goal.
It will be a significant challenge, Shrimpton says, since there are thought to be less than 100 aboriginal engineers in the whole country.
APEGGA also wants to have some of its staffers, as well as engineer members, speak to students in high schools and universities about the opportunities the profession affords.
"We´re starting to negotiate with the major school boards to get them to help us introduce our profession to their students," he says.
The association plans to upgrade its website so that it can be interactive, allowing students to surf it for more in-depth information.
"Most other associations like ours in Canada concentrate on the regulatory side," Shrimpton says. "We plan to be pro-active in dealing with the projected shortage of engineers."
One thing it will not do is "dumb down" the standards. It takes four years of university, followed by four years of work experience, to qualify as an engineer and Shrimpton believes APEGGA´s multi-pronged strategy will help deal with the shortage it sees.
Jim Smith, APEGGA´s president, is a retired engineer (he worked in the forestry sector) who is very concerned about the impending shortage, especially given the kind of economy Alberta and the rest of Canada has.
"We´re going to have a knowledge-based economy, but we´re not going to have the people to operate it," he says.
The great recession of 2008-2009 certainly didn´t help, since some young engineers who graduated then couldn´t find jobs.
"When you have economic uncertainty, companies are reluctant to hire people and some of those people got turned off of the profession."
That´s short-sighted on the part of the corporate sector, since engineers like Smith, with decades of experience, are going to be few and far between in the next few years.
If Canadian-based employers aren´t willing to hire newly trained engineers and find creative ways to keep existing engineers, companies elsewhere are, Smith points out.
For instance, in May, recruiters from Australia were at job fairs in Calgary and Edmonton, trying to convince Canadian engineers to move to the land of sunshine and kangaroos.
The Opportunities Australia Expo attracted several hundred professionals. One of the recruiters said the country is currently 18,000 engineers short, and that shortage is only expected to grow in the next decade.
Robin Mann, an executive with Calgary-based AJM-Deloitte Petroleum Consultants and the president-elect of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG), says the shortage of geoscientists in Canada is even more acute than the shortage of engineers overall (geoscientists are also engineers).
"If the engineering profession is going to have a problem finding people, we are a multiple of that," he says, adding there are about 4,500 geoscientists in Canada "and probably half of them will retire in the next 10 years."
CSPG and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG), two bodies with about 5,000 members overall (many geoscientists belong to both groups), work to increase the profile of the profession and to attract more young people into the field.
It isn´t easy.
"Part of the problem is that the geosciences aren´t as sexy as they used to be," Mann says. "The majority of the jobs in the field are in the oil and gas industry and in mining and they don´t have a stellar environmental reputation among young people."
Mann thinks this does a disservice to the profession, since both the oil and gas and mining sectors have made "huge strides" in improving their environmental performance.
In addition, the sector hasn´t recovered from the oil and gas (and mining) industry downturns of the 1980s and 1990s, when geoscientists were laid off in large numbers (some young people avoid it because they fear the same fate).
To counter the environmental reputation and fears about a repeat of past layoffs, the CSPG has a number of programs aimed at young people.
One is an annual field trip for 25-30 geophysics students from universities across Canada. The students spend two weeks in Calgary and are sent to various oil and gas industry head offices, as well as to the offices of the Geological Survey of Canada, to get a taste for the work involved in the energy industry.
Mann plans to spend next year concentrating on increasing the profile of the geosciences in Canada, with the aim of attracting more young people to the profession.
Mann agrees with APEGGA´s Smith that companies in the engineering field overall-and particularly those engaged in the geosciences-need to create a more flexible work environment.
AJM-Deloitte, which is involved in reserve and resource evaluations and acquisition and divestiture reports, has always let its professionals work from their homes, for instance, something he recommends others do, since that will likely allow them to retain older workers who might otherwise retire.
Mann says it´s not unusual for geoscientists in their 70s to still be working, but companies should recognize that more would do so if they could work from summer cottages or winter escapes.
AJM, which merged with giant international accounting firm Deloitte this past spring, will also now have the advantage of having access to geoscientists from outside of Canada, Mann says, since Deloitte has offices worldwide.
Today´s computer-based technology allows companies to transmit data from one country to another.
"We could end up with a geoscientist who lives in Mexico working on projects in Alberta," he says. "In today´s world, workers don´t all have to live in Calgary."