Keyano College: What’s Next in Energy Education?

An Edmonton Journal article, dated June 16, 1965, stated: “The school (Alberta Vocational Centre) received a grant of $148,680 from the province.”

That same week the Alberta government had granted a permit to the Great Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. to extract 45,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the region.

The perfect union had been created – Education and Energy – and continues today though under different names:  Alberta Vocational College was renamed Keyano College in 1975 and in 1979 Great Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. amalgamated with Suncor Energy…one of the players in a billion dollar industry.

How has that relationship, if any, changed the last 56 years?

“I think it sort of goes in ebbs-and-flows,” said Fred Russell, Vice President, Academic at Keyano College. “ For example, our (Board of Governors) changes all the time and sometimes we have a board that’s very heavily connected to the oil industry and other times we have a board that’s a little more connected to small business or the nonprofit sector.

“Of course it also ebbs-and-flows according to the economy. When it is super strong, we have greater demand from the oil industry.”

A number of trade and apprenticeship programs related to the oil industry are offered at Keyano as explained by Keyano’s Dean of Trades and Heavy Industrial, Caitlin Hartigan.

“In terms of apprenticeship training, we have six programs: Electrical, Heavy Equipment Technician, Millwright, Steamfitter/Pipefitter, Plumbing and Welder. Additionally, we also offer 4th and 3rd Class Power Engineering Co-op Programs,” says Hartigan.

“As an online, asynchronous alternative, we also offer a Power Engineering Computer Managed Learning program. These are all foundational programs that provide our students with the knowledge and opportunities to find successful careers within the local oil sands industry.”

With this in mind, how does Keyano keep tabs on the future of Energy Education?

“Looking at the future? Right now is a very exciting time for the trades,” declares Hartigan. “With the upcoming implementation of Bill 67, the scope and way that apprenticeship training is delivered in Alberta will evolve considerably.”

The Government of Alberta website states “Bill 67, the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act repeals and replaces the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act to make the system more flexible, reduce red tape and give Alberta’s workforce new tools to meet emerging challenges.”

Hartigan continues: “It will be expanding the definition of apprenticeship, and it will be very interesting to see how the new Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act will enhance the inclusivity and alignment within the future energy sector.”

“We recently commissioned a report from Hanover Research and it will help us gain further insight into the careers and jobs that will be required in the next five to 10 years in the energy sector. In this approach, we are able to see how we can start channelling our program development so that we can grasp a better understanding of the jobs of the future and reverse engineer our program development to support those future jobs.“

“A lot of the jobs that were noted in the report were jobs related to implementing smart technology, carbon capture and storage as well as hydrogen production. It is indicated that there will be demand for up-skilling current employees within industry to implement more energy-efficient alternatives, such as upgrading pneumatic systems to electronic control systems. The report forecasts that potentially 8,500 Oil and Gas industry jobs in Alberta may be created as Industry works to increase electrical and heating efficiencies.”

“We are still in the exploration phase with our local industry partners in understanding what their training needs are for the coming decade.”

Much of that will focus on achieving net-zero emissions through the incorporation of smart technology.

Russell added that Keyano “are part of Alberta Innovates (Alberta’s largest research and innovation agency) which are trying to foster a culture and a climate and environment of technological advancement.

“We want to take technology from the idea stage and turn that to business. We actually co-founded the Wood Buffalo Regional Innovation Network a few years ago in partnership with Economic Development and Tourism. We have put some focus on things like robotics, big data, machine learning and coding.

“We are quite advanced as a college in responding in a teaching and learning way, to the technological demands for students to learn.”

Energy education is also related to improving the environment.

“We do have some programs that are really focused on the environment,” said Russell. “Dealing with, for example, tailings ponds and land reclamation and those types of things are all environmental diplomas.

“We have not been involved in solving the significant world crisis on carbon reduction. It’s been more how do we supply the oil sands with the types of employees they need. When I’ve done a comparison of the labour market studies that are out there and the types of programs that are required of us at the college, what I find is that we are meeting the demands that are asked for from each of the oil sector.”

Energy Education is important in that a recent OSCA study showed that when it comes to educational attainment, roughly three-quarters of operations-related rotational workers have a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree.

Russell concluded that the college “was recently approved” for Tri-Council Certification “which allows us to access research dollars.

“The landscape for us will change…opening a lot of research doors and allowing us to dive more into where we fit in the energy cycle.”

This past August the Alberta Minister of Energy, Honorable Sonya Savage toured the Oilsands Power and Processing Engineering Lab where she was shown a “Digital Commercial Fiber Laser Cutter purchased through the generous support of Suncor, as well as the brand new Syncrude Hyflex classrooms which are designed to maximize student learning flexibility post-COVID.”

This facility was funded in part by industry leaders.

Her comments on the up-close look at the future of energy education “I appreciated the opportunity to tour Keyano College yesterday which is training the next generation of our energy sector. With the College located at the epicentre of our province’s natural resource development, Keyano is taking a leading role in community and industry engagement to ensure the graduates have the skills and education required for the future of our oil and gas sector.”

Keyano has come a long way in energy education since its official opening on January 26, 1966, when the then Alberta Minister of Education Harry Strom cut the chain ‘ribbon’ with a blowtorch.

Contributor | + posts

Residing in Fort McMurray since 1982, Curtis J. Phillips is a productive sports journalist in print/electronic mediums.  He enjoys researching local sports history and was Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Sports Writer from 2008-2019. Recognized as Canada’s Basketball Historian, he is an advocate for community volunteerism.

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