From engineer to sommelier: Calgary's laid-off oil workers try plan B

Wed Jun 22, 2016 1:00am EDT
 
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta, June 22 (Reuters) - Alejandro Rodriguez wants to be a sommelier. His previous experience: 20 years as an oil reservoir engineer.

The 42-year-old needed to consider a career plan B after ARC Resources Ltd laid him off in January, adding to a growing number of people in the Canadian city of Calgary, Alberta who no longer have a place in its once-vibrant oil and gas industry.

Once lured by high pay and a multitude of opportunities, many job seekers in Calgary often have one mission these days: get out of the industry and never return.

"I see this as an opportunity to go for the passions you may have. If the downturn had not come, I would be continuing in the oil and gas industry," said Rodriguez.

While the oil-rich province has a long boom and bust history, executive recruiters say pessimism is deeper than in past, with a growing number of white-collar workers looking for more stable careers.

In May, there were 25,000 fewer jobs in Calgary than there were a year earlier. Unemployment hit 8.1 percent, according to Statistics Canada data, higher than the 7.8 percent unemployment seen across Alberta, which has nearly doubled from 4.6 percent two years earlier.

Those departures suggest the industry could forever lose some of the talent and expertise it would need during a recovery.

"We have people coming through our programs saying 'We are done. We do not want oil and gas jobs any more because it's too unstable'," said Jackie Rafter, founder of Higher Landings, a company that tries to help people move into different careers.   Continued...