Graduates from technology programs at Alberta's polytechnic schools better don their shades - because the future is looking bright.
Officials from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and NAIT, its northern Alberta counterpart, say the rapid expansion in the province's oil and gas industry is translating into a hiring frenzy, especially for graduates of energy-related technologies programs.
"What I tell graduates is that if they take the time to work on their jobs search, come to our office and get some resume help, in most of our programs, but certainly in our oil and gas ones, they should not have trouble finding a job," says Matt Smith, a career adviser at NAIT.
"And if they are having troubles, maybe their phone number is wrong on their resume. But they should be able to find work" in an industry where the average salaries start at around $3,400 per month, he says.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|SAIT graduate Gerald Andres didn't have to wait long to land a job in the booming oilpatch.|
It's the same story in Calgary, says Duke Anderson, SAIT's energy department dean, noting that this year is probably the best he has witnessed since the heady days of the early 1980s, before the energy sector hit the skids following the implementation of the National Energy Program.
"Knowing what the province is doing and knowing what energy is doing, I'm sure most of our grads are going to have multiple job offers," Anderson says.
That was Gerald Andres' experience. The soon-to-graduate petroleum engineering technology student at SAIT says he had four job offers in hand before he finally decided on EnCana Corp. as an engineering technologist.
"That's what I was looking for," Andres says.
"I was hoping to stay in Calgary, doing something I am trained to do and fortunately I got the opportunity."
Andres said he found scads of jobs posted on SAIT's employment website, but the EnCana position actually came from a referral of a former SAIT student employed at EnCana, who asked instructors to recommend some of the program's brightest students.
"I started looking for work around the start of January and I began interviewing by the end of January, but I didn't get a (the EnCana) job offer until the end of March," Andres says.
Roughly 97 per cent of SAIT grads find employment within nine months of completing their education, and about 85 per cent land jobs in the fields in which they were trained. Anderson says that number is generally higher in the programs that fall under the energy department, which fall into the electrical, petroleum, chemical, process, power and instrumentation disciplines.
The same rings true at NAIT. In 2004, 93 per cent of graduates were working within six months of graduation - up three per cent from 2003 - while about 77 per cent found jobs in their disciplines. Smith says that with oil and gas-related fields, between 80 and 90 per cent of graduates find full-time work related to their studies within the first six months of leaving college.
But it's not just energy-linked disciplines that are in demand; even the much-battered information technology (IT) sector - which severely cut its workforce after the IT bubble burst in 2001 - is hiring again.
NAIT's Smith says the computer system technology program experienced a 20-per-cent jump in job placements in 2004 to 62 per cent and he expects that number will climb again this year.
"I was at a career fair in January where they had eight or nine (IT) employers ... and they were all encouraging people to apply for jobs - even the smaller ones had jobs they were advertising.
"It's positive for IT right now because Edmonton is becoming more of an IT centre. Companies that 10 years ago might have moved elsewhere are staying, and part of that is they get good people from NAIT - that's the feedback we're hearing."
Officials at all Alberta post-secondary institutions have lamented they are unable to accommodate all the qualified applicants for their programs. What's at stake, they say, is the future of billions of dollars worth of projects - many of which are oilsands projects in northern Alberta - because not enough trained workers are graduating from universities and colleges to fill the positions.
Last week the Alberta government announced in its budget that spending on post-secondary education would be pegged at more than $1.6 billion, 13.4 per cent more than last year, which is good news for educators such as Anderson.
He says that in the petroleum engineering technology program, for example, 128 seats are up for grabs when classes begin in September, but only about one in four applicants will find themselves filling those seats. "So we're probably going to have to turn away in the order of 400 applicants," Anderson says.
"We do have classroom space available, but where we start to run into problems in some programs is our lab space. If we had more funding we would probably have the ability to push more students through."
Andres knows enrolling in SAIT was a smart move. He says he's been very pleased with the program and feels he is "more than adequately prepared" to venture out into industry and begin his career.
And his advice to fellow students who have yet to find work?
"Connections: It's all about connecting with people and getting as many resumes in front of as many people as possible out there. So if you know somebody in industry and they know somebody, follow that up."
(John Ludwick can be reached at email@example.com)