NAIT students search for optimism in Alberta's oil and gas industry

As Alberta climbs back from the province's worst recession in a generation, students looking to enter the oil and gas industry may find it hard to be hopeful about their future careers. But some say they're finding signs things will get better.

Next generation of workers looking for security through Alberta’s boom and busts

Kryzset Beltran, 19, says his chemical engineering profs at NAIT tell students, "oil and gas will be a hit again." (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

As Alberta climbs back from the province's worst recession in a generation, students looking to enter the oil and gas industry may find it hard to be hopeful about their future careers.

But some say they're finding signs things will get better.

Kryzset Beltran, a 19-year-old first-year student in chemical engineering at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, said he's seen the effects of the downturn and is concerned about his prospects for finding work.

"Currently we're trying to find summer jobs because it's a requirement," he said.

"It's hard finding a job in the field right now."

But he said his instructors tell him that should become easier with further development in the industry.

"They will always tell us, 'In five years, oil and gas will be a hit again.'"

That's something Beltran is counting on. He said holding a steady job is important to him since he and his mom moved to Canada from the Philippines a little more than year ago. They rely on each other for financial support.

Beltran's values line up with what a recent survey found was true among young people looking for careers.

Generation Z

Giselle Kovary is the president of a Toronto-based consulting group called n-gen People Performance. In 2017 the company conducted a national survey of Canadians in generation Z about their attitudes about future careers.

On Wednesday, Kovary will share her research with the Canadian Energy Executive Association at the Calgary Petroleum Club.

She defines generation Z as people born between 1996 and 2012, a group now reaching the ages of 7 to 23. The survey contacted 600 people throughout different regions in Canada and focused on youth 14 and older.

"The biggest surprise that we found was that this generation is bringing back some very traditional values: loyalty, dedication, and the notion of wanting to have secure work," Kovary told CBC's Radio Active on Monday.

Kovary said workers in generation Z are looking for more stability than millennials and generation Xers.

Of those surveyed, 85 per cent said they wanted a job they could hold for a long time, and 88 per cent wanted a job with benefits — but in Alberta that desire for security was even more evident.

"Ninety per cent of the gen-Zs in Alberta said that they want a job that's secure," Kovary said.

"So right away, we're starting to get an indication this generation may not be as open to riding the wave of the different sectors — and particularly oil and gas."

Based on NAIT employment surveys, 49 per cent of 2017 chemical engineering technology graduates found full-time employment in their field within a year of graduation, compared to 27 per cent in 2016. (NAIT)

One possible explanation Kovary pointed to was that this generation has been predominantly raised by people from generation X, born between the 1960s and early 1980s.

"I think gen X parents have had a different kind of conversation with their kids than baby boomers did with their millennial children," she said.

"A lot of Xers have said, 'Look, I was in the energy sector and there were some tough times, but we were able to weather that storm and we've done incredibly well … and [those] parents are the ones that were impacted by the recession most severely and have likely had some very realistic conversations with [their kids] about finances."

Jake Harris, a first-year NAIT student in instrumentation engineering technology, said he is following his dad's career path. He wants to focus on the oil and gas industry because that's where he sees the most opportunity.

"All my buddies are becoming millwrights or welders. The oil and gas industry up there is crazy — everyone wants to be in it," he said.

"That's where you make the money, that's where you get the nice cars," Harris said.

"Even my dad says, 'That's where you'll make the most money.'"

For NAIT students graduating in engineering programs, there is some indication that prospects are improving. While employment rates for graduates are significantly lower than in 2014, numbers were up in 2017 compared to 2016.

Based on NAIT employment surveys, 49 per cent of 2017 chemical engineering technology graduates found full-time employment in their field within a year of graduation, compared to 27 per cent of graduates in 2016.

For those who studied instrumentation engineering technology, 60 per cent of 2017 graduates found full-time employment compared to 39 per cent of those who graduated in 2016.