Paving the way for a new generation of engineers
By Ernest Granson
You’d think a degree in engineering, especially a petroleum related degree, would lead to a reasonably solid path towards a successful career. But for many engineering graduates from Canadian post secondary schools, the path created by the current oil and gas economy has become extremely bumpy.
Bruce Peachey, President at New Paradigm Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, Alta. and a Sessional Lecturer at the University of Alberta (U of A), points out that many graduating students are unable to find work and he’s made it his objective to level out that path.
“I teach fourth-year petroleum engineering at the U of A and it’s been very noticeable over the last few years that the number of registered engineering students is going up while the number of available jobs has been decreasing,” Peachey says. “Last year, I had a record number of students in my class. Normally there are about 50 students participating. Last year, I had 73 students. Given the difficulty they were likely to experience in finding work, I suggested that some of them might form their own company. Some of them took me up on that, but the reality is they can’t practice engineering on their own; so they formed as a division of my company.”
Recent engineering graduates are required to complete 48 months of engineering work experience under the guidance of qualified engineering mentors. This stage is known as Engineers-in-Training (EIT) and the standard practice has been for companies to hire EITs as full-time employees, but many small companies aren’t able to afford to hire EITs at that salary level. Even EIT engineers hired by larger companies have been let go recently by companies that have sold off their Canadian operations to concentrate on U.S. production and could not justify transferring those EITs to the U.S.
This situation has created a significant surplus of EITs, and Peachey feels the industry needs to take a different view of this stage of training to help both the engineering graduates and companies looking for entry level employees.
“A number of years ago, I met Nima Dorjee – now the President of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) – when he was an EIT and CEO of a company he had formed in 1992 shortly after graduating from the University of Calgary (U of C),” says Peachey. “Nima operated EngIT Engineering Services Ltd., which specialized in providing engineers-in-training to employers for short-term contracts, before he joined the faculty of engineering at the U of C in 1995. Under his leadership, the U of C engineering internship program became the largest of its kind in Canada. It was this concept that I expanded upon when I recently created a separate division of my company, using the company’s resources to help a group of EITS find employment on a contract and/or short-term basis for new grads looking for work experience in a specific career path.”
The EITs are supervised, as required, by professional, experienced engineers and, depending on the project, they are available mainly for smaller projects or on contract position for major projects. This offers flexibility for small companies, service companies or supply companies to have access to professional help without hiring full-time. Employing EITs through this type of model reduces the overall associated cost of engineering work while maintaining industry required standards of quality. To uncover as many potential clients as possible, this mentoring model has worked on, or is working on, a wide variety of collaborations with researchers, designers, not-for-profit organizations and charity groups.
For instance, Peachey says his EIT division, called Nexov, has now been contracted by several groups in the Edmonton area for an assortment of assignments. One of those assignments is supporting the potential development of a geothermal demonstration facility at the Leduc #1 Discovery Museum by developing an educational display and providing input to show how geothermal energy can best be extracted from active, suspended or abandoned legacy oil and gas wells. Nexov’s EITs are also working on developing tools to help municipalities surrounded by legacy oil and gas operations to assess the potential for using that legacy infrastructure for economic community heating to reduce energy costs and emissions.
“For the Leduc #1 project, we’ve taken it on to provide initial support on an ad hoc or pro bono basis, because it serves an educational purpose as opposed to commercial,” Peachey says. “The EITs are helping to put together the design for an interactive display, but it very much involves well design and reservoir modelling – but with heat, not fluids. And it allows them to put their engineering knowledge and computer skills to use.”
And, through a joint New Paradigm and Patro Research Inc. project, the EITs are also using their engineering and data analytics skills to help develop a method for assigning upstream air emission footprints to natural gas streams being exported from Canada.
Peachey feels this EIT employment model is starting to gain the attention of potential clients interested in pursuing novel technical concepts, where concept development is still needed to define the long-term value propositions, but funding is scarce and work is still a long way from production operations. It reduces the overall associated cost of engineering work while maintaining industry required standards of quality It is also of interest to those evaluating opportunities where potential benefits are likely but require more rigorous analysis through the implementation of data analytics and other related tools.
Just as importantly, it allows industry leaders, business owners, consultants and other key players to access a talented pool of focused and energetic workers.
“This next generation of engineers needs to be guided along to replace the retiring generation, and for that they need experience,” Peachey says. “Rather than a short term stop gap, we need to look at changing the structure of hiring engineers. I wasn’t pursuing this as strenuously until we realized the potential interest through several successful responses, so now we are broadening the base of people to contact and the EITs themselves are intensifying their own searches and doing most of their own marketing. The positive reaction has also encouraged us to move towards online marketing which is now in the beginning stages.”
For anyone interested in the potential of the EIT mentorship model, contact: Bruce Peachey at 780-448-9195 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Initial concept art for potential educational geothermal game for the Leduc #1 Discovery Center. An interactive game being developed by New Paradigm Engineering Ltd.’s EIT division to show school children and others how geothermal energy can be used for heating and how heat output changes as some of the variables change.
Graphic provided by New Paradigm Engineering Ltd.
Alternative and related programs
• STEP – a Government of Alberta summer temporary employment program for students currently enrolled in Alberta high school or post secondary.
• MITACS – (formerly named Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems) an independent, national not-for-profit organization supported jointly by provincial and federal governments and agencies, industry and universities within Canada, as well as governments and universities overseas. Mitacs offers programs in R&D management, professional skills development, and international research training, including internship programs.
• IRAP – The National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) provides financial innovation assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises to hire graduates and youths.