Calgary

Calgarians continue building new careers and new lives outside of oil and gas in 2019

It's the time of year when many people are pondering some big life changes, including a new job or a complete career change.

Some have already left the industry while others quietly prepare for future change

Evelyne Nyairo went from a six-figure salary in oil and gas to setting up her own skincare business. She says the transition wasn't easy but she wouldn't change a thing. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

It's the time of year when many people are making some big life changes, including a new job or even a complete career change.

In Calgary, many of those will come from the oil and gas sector as workers continue to build new lives and reinvent themselves in other industries after being laid off or deciding to walk away from long and lucrative careers in the ailing energy sector.

Some are embarking on bold career changes while others are quietly plotting their escape to other industries from their desks, updating and adding new skills to stay relevant and employable.

Julie Eckert worked in oil and gas for 18 years as a project cost controller, tracking costs and crunching numbers.

She's one of many making the leap into a new and totally different career. After getting laid off, she decided to go back to school to retrain as a nurse.

"It's like walking away from a bad relationship and looking back and having no regrets," said Eckert, 47.

"I didn't feel stability anymore, and that you really had to work very hard to keep your job. It wasn't a healthy environment for me," she said. "My heart wasn't in it anymore."

Like many, Eckert is adjusting to a new way of life, and a new bank balance.

Julie Eckert left a long career in oil and gas to become a nurse — a job she says is in demand and one she always felt well suited for. ( LinkedIn)

"I'm not going to make the money I made in oil and gas, but what's best suited to you as a profession isn't always money driven, it has to be something you have a passion for. I wish I'd have pursued this profession earlier in my life," she said.

Saying goodbye to oil and gas wasn't easy, Eckert says, comparing it to a relationship breakup.

"I'm living a lifestyle that's more humble, but things don't buy you happiness," she said. "It was worth the sacrifice. I am a lot more grounded than I was before and a lot more in touch with people."

"I had a lot of great friends in the industry and wonderful memories, but I'm going to make new memories in my new profession," said Eckert.

Eckert says she hopes to start work as a nurse right away after graduating.

'We were paid really well'

"I went from making close to $350,000 a year, in a bad year, to making zero," said Evelyne Nyairo, who went from 20 years on the environmental side of oil and gas to founding her own socially conscious skincare company, Ellie Bianca.

"Around 2014, we started noticing a decline and for us it was almost instant," said Nyairo, 36. "One day, I went to the office and our contract had been cancelled."

"Slowly the decline continued and continued and didn't pick up so I picked up with Ellie Bianca and continued to grow it," she said.

"We were paid really well, almost spoiled," she said. "There's also the prestige, and starting from scratch wasn't easy. Not just the money aspect but am I losing my identity?"

Nyairo says the uncertainty around the sector was too much and she wanted to regain control of her own destiny. 

"I feel that I am in control for once," she said. 

'Try and do something else'

Her company sells natural bath salts, balms and serums across Canada.

"I would say try and do something else, listen to yourself, you may have that dream, go and do it, trust the process and don't be afraid. The only thing that holds us from that next success is fear," said Nyairo.

While not everyone thinking of a career change has the stomach for a bold entrepreneurial adventure like Nyairo's, many are quietly preparing for change in their own way through retraining and continuing education, broadening skills and readying to switch industries if more bad news comes their way.

"They're looking to get out of, in particular, oil and gas because the cycles that repeat and repeat are very destablizing for people," said Joanne Leskow, an instructor with Mount Royal University specializing in leadership and change management. 

MRU instructor Joanne Leskow says most of her students come from oil and gas careers. They're looking to jump to other industries or prepare for the worst by updating their skills sets. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

Most of her students are older mid-career professionals looking to add new tools and skills and remain relevant, preparing themselves for change, with many coming out of corporate downsizing or anticipating a reorganization or job loss in the near future.

Others are survivors, usually with more work to deal with and looking for new ways to cope and manage the change.

"There are so many uncertainties that people are preparing themselves," said Leskow.

"Even the people who aren't actively looking know they may be looking, and one thing we are noticing is a significantly quicker turnaround now on career cycles. People are staying less and less. Those long-term, 15- or 20-year cycles are non-existent anymore," said Leskow.

Leskow says the reality has hit home, particularly in Calgary, that times have changed. 

"People are getting excited now about other sectors like the IT sector, innovation, development and the agri-sector," she said. "There's lots of interest in cannabis production and also the entrepreneurial route."

"There's some degree of resignation that 'this is happening and I need to rethink my position,'" she said. "We are in an era of unprecedented change. The business landscape is changing dramatically in many industries, not just oil and gas."

Leskow estimates around half of her students come from the oil and gas industry.

She says she expects to see more of them in 2019.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey