Bucking the Albertan boom

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By Sarah Boesveld

Bevin Braganza knew he wanted to work in Alberta’s oil and gas industry when he first enrolled in Ryerson’s chemical engineering program.

“This is what I always wanted to do,” he says from his co-op placement in Fort McMurray, Alta. Braganza, a Whitby native, has been with oil firm Syncrude since May. His term ends this December.

Braganza says there are plenty of chemical engineering jobs available in the oil and gas sector — and few Ryerson engineering students take advantage of them.

Most Ryerson engineering students choose to do their co-op terms in Ontario, though their resumes would be considered by Western companies.

“If a Ryerson student applied here … I would not discard his resume — I just don’t get any,” says Nicole Gaudet head of human resources for Air Liquide Canada in Edmonton. Though it doesn’t take co-op students, the company hasn’t seen applications from Ryerson engineering graduates recently. Pat Chatelain, a Syncrude recruitment officer, agrees that applications from Ryerson are rarely seen.

“Certainly we’re interested in Ryerson students if they’re interested in us,” she says, adding that co-op applications are posted on the company’s public website.

Braganza, who secured his co-op without help from the school, says Ryerson doesn’t have many ties with companies in Alberta – and he doesnt think effort has been put into this as fas as he can tell.

“The university itself should move forward and make ties with companies out here,” he says, adding Ryerson needs to identify the oil and gas industry as a major job sector.

John Easton, director of co-operative education and internships at Ryerson, is in charge of chemical engineering co-ops. It’s the only engineering program at Ryerson that requires students to work five four-month terms. He says students are encouraged to look for jobs in Western Canada.

“We’ve certainly been pushing opportunities in Alberta,” he says.

Some students have just returned from eight-month terms out west and at least three graduates have found work with oil firms in Alberta, he adds.

But far fewer Ryerson students are going to Alberta than other schools.

Queen’s University currently has eight students doing co-ops with Albertan energy companies, many through a mining engineering program that Ryerson doesn’t offer.

Despite opportunities in the western provinces, Easton says most of this year’s 130 chemical engineering co-op students will stay in Ontario.

“There’s the cost of living elsewhere that keeps students in Ontario,” he says. “If you can live at home and save for school, it’s going to be a lot cheaper.”

Third-year aerospace engineering student Ben Schreiber agrees.

He found a job through his cousin with Canada Tech, a smaller firm in Red Deer, Alta., which builds toolsfor use in oil and gas wells. The Albertan job was the only engineering gig he found.

Canada Tech offered him a job for next summer, but Schreiber says he might turn it down. The cost of living in Alberta has been climbing steadily.

Although he made good money, he had to pay steep rent in Alberta while paying to keep his apartment in Toronto.

“If I could get the same amount of pay (as in Alberta) I would stay in Ontario,” Schrieber says. He also would like to find work more specific to his aerospace training, not energy.

Donald Tham, the internship co-ordinator for Ryerson’s mechanical and industrial engineering program, says there are good reasons for students to stay.

Companies are partial to Ryerson’s style of work placements, which are longer than those at other engineering schools, he says.

Waterloo, for example, has five four-month placements integrated with academic programs. The optional placements are longer and range from eight to 16 months. Students are only eligible to intern after finishing three years of their degree.

“Employers like having someone to work from beginning to end,” Tham says.

Braganza says he would consider staying in Alberta to work.

But although Ryerson prepared him well, he thinks the school might want to think about placing more emphasis on oil and gas chemical engineering in fourth year electives.

It would help Ryerson better compete with schools like University of Alberta, which offer classes to prepare students for work on the rigs.

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