Energy Jobs of the Future: How to Thrive in an Evolving Industry

In February, Canada West Foundation hosted Energy Jobs of the Future – a dynamic event that explored changing employment needs in the energy sector. Our panelists, who represented employers, employees and educators, shared their views on the static and evolving needs of the industry. If you missed the event, we’ve presented key takeaways and a link to a recording of each panel.

In this Energy Jobs of the Future Blog, we share lessons learned from some of our amazing event panelists.

Insight into a changing sector

Picks by Justin Rodych and Nayantara Sudhakar

There is a reason why problem solving and critical thinking are buzz words in the hiring arena today and requisites to landing your dream job. Identifying effective solutions requires an understanding of the complexity of the problem—and employers want to know you have what it takes.

Shelagh Ell breaks down what critical thinking and problem solving mean. Hear the full recording.

Shelagh Ell, the Director of People and Culture at ATCO, provides a deep dive into the relevance of these skills in the energy industry. Shelagh explains that critical thinking often requires individuals to step back and approach ideas and issues from a global perspective. It also requires a strategic vision to guide you as you look ahead to possibilities and translate them into breakthrough strategies – in essence, problem solving. Combine the two skills and you will be able to achieve results that add value to your organizations and society at large, such as meeting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals and mitigating climate change.  Above all, Shelagh emphasizes the need to adopt a growth mindset in which you are open to learning, have the courage to make mistakes, and are nimble when faced with new and uncertain situations.

David Wares describes how jobs evolve as technology advances. Hear the full recording

The energy sector leverages data analytics as a problem-solving tool to identify innovative solutions to complex issues. David Wares, Western Canada Sales Director of GHGSAT, emphasizes there is an excess of data but not enough insight. Price crunches and downturns over the years have put significant pressure on oil and gas operators to become as efficient as possible and companies like GHGSAT are using data to ask how efficiency and sustainability can increase productivity. David states that knowledge of data analytics, machine learning and proficiency in software platforms such as Power BI and Tableau are important skills and critical components in helping industry understand what is underneath the hood of sector data.

The resilience of energy industry organizations has become increasingly dependent on their capacity to create innovative pathways toward renewable and sustainable energy production. As a result, the demand for data analysts and skills such as complex problem solving and critical thinking continue to rise.

As the energy sector changes – be prepared to adapt

Picks by Taylor Blaisdell and Brendan Cooke

Reflecting on what we learned from the young professionals who participated in the second panel of our Energy Jobs of the Future event, one message rang clear—be willing to adapt, grow and continue to develop yourself as industry evolves. Below are two examples of how our panelists are living this message.

Richard Hares describes his non-linear career path from oil and gas to energy. Hear the full recording.

In the clip above, Richard Hares, Principal, Carbon Management at Sproule, reflects on how he adapted from a time when energy was synonymous with oil to the multi-faceted industry that exists today. After a period of unemployment, he was forced to consider how he could transfer his experience as a reservoir engineer into a sector increasingly focused on sustainability.  His research—along with targeted reskilling—helped shape a new career in carbon management, a field with much of the same requisite knowledge as his past profession, but with massive growth potential as the world shifts its attention to climate change mitigation.

Andy Tertzakian describes how change is an inherent part of innovation, and being nimble and flexible while working in an ever-changing industry are critical skills. Hear the full recording

Andy Tertzakian, Data Scientist at Teine Energy, explains that although he was trained technically in mathematics, data analytics and engineering, he has discovered that developing his communication and change management skills have been equally, if not more, critical to his career development. Andy says that as the energy industry continues to evolve, those within it must be able to adapt, learn new skills and wear many hats. Anyone interested in entering the sector, no matter how technical their education or background, should be prepared to continuously develop new skillsets and shape them to fit a dynamic environment.

There was a time when working in energy meant working in oil and gas, and that likely meant pursuing a degree in engineering or geology. Over the past decade however, the energy sector in Western Canada—and around the world—has gone through a period of immense transition. Between 2014 and 2019 the Canadian oil and gas workforce declined by nearly 25%—from 226,500 to 173,300. Yet, as this industry shake-up may have made some career paths in energy less obvious, it has exposed a treasure trove of new opportunities for those willing to re-evaluate how their skills fit into emerging energy sectors. New regulatory frameworks and strategies like the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) and methane emission reductions have resulted in an increased demand for expanded non-traditional skill sets. From public health professionals to Indigenous rights specialists, and carbon experts to data scientists there is now a place for almost every skill in this evolving sector.

Look at the big picture to succeed in the energy sector

Picks by Stephany Laverty and Ethan Johnson

Education experts in our third panel focused on how tomorrow’s workforce can prepare for challenges the energy industry faces and what competencies employers look for in new hires. Above all, our panelists agreed that individuals looking to enter the sector need to consider the impacts of their work throughout its lifecycle and how different sectors interact with each other—a concept known as systems thinking. Systems Thinking requires businesses and individuals to consider their roles as single pieces in an ecosystem of many interconnected parts—as opposed to static or independent moving pieces. It’s a mindset that allows one to understand how different forces affect each other, make sense of complex issues and think ahead about alternatives that can maximize desired outcomes and minimize regrets.

Dr. Sarah Hastings-Simon describes the importance of systems thinking – being able to understand how jobs and industries are connected in a larger context. Hear the full recording.

Dr. Sarah Hastings-Simon, Director of the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development at the University of Calgary, argues that our energy systems are interacting in new ways that encourage businesses to consider how their work impacts the world. Businesses that remain siloed operate in the dark, unaware of moving parts that could influence their future success.

The same can be said for this generation’s workforce. As other speakers noted, individuals can no longer rely on specialized career paths and linear progression. As sectors and industries continue to converge in unique ways, so will different roles and networks. This requires today’s job seekers to not only market their hard skills but also their ability to employ systems thinking. It gives job seekers a great advantage by being prepared for changes in the business ecosystem and help drive the organization in the right direction.

Janet Lane describes how foundational competencies are critical to developing specialized skills and work-integrated learning. Hear the full recording.

In this clip, Janet Lane, Director of the Human Capital Centre at Canada West Foundation, points out the importance of building a skills foundation from a young age that is both fundamental and diverse. She would like to see the K-12 system use a competency-based approach to develop critical skills such as literacy and mathematics. As students continue their education, they can develop a foundation of functional skills that align with generalized fields, such as finance. Once foundational knowledge is acquired, students can specialize their skills to reflect the needs of specific sectoral contexts, such as energy. Work-integrated learning would be one way to acquire this sector specific knowledge.

The American-based Centre for Energy Workforce Development has released the Energy Transition Competency Model: Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, which provides a model of Canada’s energy system stakeholders could build on. Stay tuned for more from the Human Capital Centre on how stakeholders across industries can build competency-based frameworks that rapidly respond to future needs.