Laid off oil and gas workers look for work beyond the oilpatch

CALGARY - For 36 years, Sue Jones rode out the ups and downs of Alberta's oilpatch. But after she was laid off last March, she knew her days in the oil and gas industry were over.

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"I'm done," said Jones, 56, who worked in data management and document control before she was let go.

"I'm older. I've been laid off so many times in oil and gas."

Great pay and plenty of jobs attracted thousands to the province, but as the decline in crude prices stretches on, some industry veterans are deciding they can no longer take the boom and bust roller-coaster.

Jones says this downturn is "the worst one" she's seen, and figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada would appear to back her up. Alberta lost 19,600 jobs last year - the most since 1982.

After months of searching, Jones finally found a job last week working in the back office of a heat and power supply company in Calgary. She has taken a pay cut, but says she won't be going back to the oilpatch.

Lynn Berry, a Calgary career counsellor who also runs a government-supported career boot camp, says more people need to start looking elsewhere.

"People just need to get out of this, 'I need to find work in the oil and gas, and I need to make X number of dollars,' because the reality of today's economy, it might not happen and they need to figure out what they're going to do next," said Berry.

"If we're feeling bad we tend to cocoon, and we tend to fall back on what we've done in the past, and what we're saying now is that's just not working." said Berry. "If you're just waiting until it comes back, then you're wasting your time and your skills and your talent."

Susan MacDonald, a registered psychologist and career counsellor, says the downturn is a great opportunity for people to look for a career that better suits them.

"When they get laid off they're seeing it as an opportunity to say, 'Maybe I should go and check things out,"' said MacDonald.

One of her clients in her late 20s left a career as an economist in the oil industry to go to nursing school. Another in his late 30s left an information technology career in the industry to go to school to become a doctor.

Curtis Buxton spent 17 years working in the oil and gas sector before losing his job last March as a project manager for oilfield services company Schlumberger.

Two weeks after getting laid off, Buxton was taking a solar industry course in B.C. and looking for work in the renewable energy sector. It took a few months, but a project manager position finally opened up at SkyFire Energy in Calgary.

Recruiters say many companies are hesitant to hire oil and gas workers because they're concerned they will jump back to the industry when it recovers. But Buxton says he had already approached the company several times showing his interest.

"I was persistent and I showed that I wanted to enter the industry," said Buxton.

Like most who leave the oil and gas industry, he has taken a pay cut, but he says it was the right move.

"Realizing this was something I was pretty sure was going to make me happy was also a strong motivator for taking that pay cut."

Nathan Tomusange was laid off from a company manufacturing oil rig equipment in March last year.

To switch industries he went back to school for a supply management course. But he says after sending out dozens of resumes, he's only had one call back from a potential employer, and that company eventually chose someone with more experience.

At 54 with three boys at home, he says he isn't waiting around for his ideal job and has started looking into getting a taxi license. But he's also continuing with more courses, trying to figure out which industry will offer the most stability.

"We're all wondering where the jobs are," he said. "Where are they? What industries?"



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