Oil and gas workers may find 'gold mine' of jobs in Calgary tech sector

Calgary business leaders are urging oil-and-gas workers to look at a new in-depth report that shows the city's issue isn't a lack of work, nor is it a lack of skills.

City's business leaders urge unemployed workers to consult report about transferable skills

A teenage girl with black hair wearing a red shirt and glasses working on a laptop computer
Calgarians are being encouraged to look at options to retrain and enter the growing tech workforce in Alberta. Businesses say oil and gas workers would fit in well, and there's help available to upgrade skills. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

Calgary faces the highest unemployment rate of Canada's largest cities, a fact many might blame on the slump in the oil sector.

It's often said that there isn't enough well-paying work to go around.

But business leaders and educators are urging laid-off and underemployed oil and gas professionals to consider a new field: technology.

The skills needed for oil and gas jobs translate well into the tech world, and many people only need a course or two to upgrade. Some businesses are offering to help pay for those courses, or offer the training themselves. There are also grants available to assist with that.

"Every single company cites the same problem: talent, talent, talent," said Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development. "We have about 2,000 jobs open, today for software engineers, data scientists, coders, programmers — and then we have all of these unemployed people."

'Gold mine' for jobs?

This week in Calgary, experts got together to help oil and gas workers find the opportunities they need to take the leap into the burgeoning sector that has struggled to fill open positions.

Calgary Economic Development and the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) spearhead a report, Mapping Calgary's Digital Future: Tech Employment Opportunities for Displaced Workers, that found Calgary's issue isn't a lack of work.

Nor is it a lack of skills.

Indeed, it's a gap between the two — one that's possible to bridge.

"I call it a gold mine," ICTC CEO Namir Anani said. "If you think about it, if we are able to transition that workforce into the jobs of the future and in-demand skills, you are not only creating the workforce of the future, but you are also able to attract investment."

Calgary leaders are saying that oil and gas professionals would fit in well in tech jobs. Some businesses are offering to help train people so they can do that new kind of work. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

It's all the more pressing, they say, as Calgary's unemployment rate stays steadily high at 7.3 per cent. Only St. John's, a far smaller city, had a higher rate at 7.4 per cent in January.

The unemployment rate in Alberta was 6.8 per cent for that month, according to the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, with Edmonton coming in at 6.4 per cent.

Hard to start fresh

Unemployed oil and gas worker Robert DaSilva feels those numbers acutely. That's why he attended Wednesday's session on tech opportunities for displaced workers.

"I have been looking to change my career but at my age, it's kind of hard," he said.

He said he discovered that much of the knowledge he already has could help him transition into work in the tech sector.

Before DaSilva even left the building, he was looking up a recommended course he hopes will give him an edge on his competition.

Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, says she'd like to see more oil and gas workers transferring their skills to the tech sector. (Mark Matulis/CBC)

Most of the people who attended the conference are highly educated and technical people that could find a place in new tech jobs, Moran said.

Even if they have to take a lower paying job at first, she said she believe they will get back up to "close to the same earning" as they had in oil and gas. 

"What they are missing is this new technology training," she said.

The report compares oil and gas jobs with new tech opportunities and explains in-depth what kind of training would be required.

With files from Elissa Carpenter