Dear Minister Schweitzer: Alberta's advantage starts with Olds College

Image: Olds College


To: Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation

From: Bill Whitelaw, Passionate Albertan privileged to work in the energy and agricultural sectors 

Re: "Shovel-ready" job retraining opportunity 

Dear Minister,

As one of your staff members may have brought to your attention, there was a recent gathering of nearly 150 people from Alberta's energy and agricultural sectors. Using an Air-Water-Land theme we came together to discuss sustainability, job creation and economic diversification opportunities. We talked about innovation and new technologies. We talked about indigenous opportunities and new energy and ag frontiers and whether we could jointly reimagine and future fit the “Alberta Advantage.”

In a nutshell, a bunch of Albertans waded through all the things that sit squarely in your new ministry's mandate.

Perhaps most important, we talked about people — the Albertans who make things happen and how central they are to the province’s brand and reputation in both sectors.

The gathering's theme was also important: Growing Forward Together. Its key argument is this, Minister: there are critically important opportunities for Alberta's next-generation economy to be teased out from the collaborative interface of the two sectors.

But what we need is short-term wins — things we can do today that illustrate the concepts and opportunities we discussed and progressively set the stage on which we can consistently iterate new opportunities.

Here’s where your job retraining priority for unemployed energy sector workers is critical. 

But here's also the thing: those folks can't wait for the bureaucracy to mobilize around program creation. As you know, they’re hurting. Big time. And the energy sector’s survivalist mode isn’t going to end the stream of folks hitting the pavement anytime soon.

It is in that spirit of action, and your government's own commitment to reduce red tape, we offer this idea for you and fellow ministers to action immediately. 

Here's the thing about engineers and geoscientists and the technical folks who run things in the oilfield: they are pretty darn smart and pretty darn adaptable. They know hardware and software and systems and process integration. In other words, they understand technical things very well, including that stretchy thing we call “digital transformation”. And many of them also get that complex and incredibly nuanced subject we call sustainability.

 For years, they've been the backbone of our energy sector's vibrancy. But now they're on the sidelines. All that brainpower and the passion behind it is going to waste.

Meanwhile, as our agrifood sector steps out of energy's shadows, its workforce demands will only continue to grow — particularly for highly skilled technology professionals. Our post-secondary institutions in the agrifood space get this and have been preparing for it.

Indeed, Olds College is now offering an eight-month post-diploma agricultural technology integration certificate program. It is designed to produce graduates trained to grapple with the multiplicity of high-tech opportunities that are already shaping and defining the near and long-term future of our agrifood value chain, quite literally, from field to fork.

Minister, here's the real-time opportunity, actionable today. Not tomorrow or next week. Today. For a start in Q1 of 2021.

Create a specially designed cohort of unemployed energy professionals, a group whose composition represents the energy value chain. It’s not just about downtown Calgary. It’s about the field, too.

The cohort could be 30 men and women. It could be 50. The numbers matter less than the process of creating.

Give Olds College the investment dollars required to make this happen. Turn an empty office building in downtown Calgary into a special Olds College satellite campus, as well as the online opportunities for Albertans in all four corners of the province. Get these folks registered. We guarantee you won’t have a shortage of eager applicants. Study carefully how effectively and efficiently they take to the subject matter and if we get this launched early in 2021, follow up to see how they find agrifood employment.

Expose these energy workers to agrifood in a strategic way through the program curriculum. Get them excited about the sector’s future potential and give them a reason to stay rooted in this province.

They’ll become walking talking examples of Alberta’s best product: its people and their ability to pivot.

Talk about Growing Forward Together.

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