When Jamie Webb went on maternity leave in 2019, she knew she might not return to her job. Working at a small energy consulting company, the geochemist’s future was uncertain amid a downturn in the oil and gas sector.
“I felt pretty trepidatious,” she says. “I knew there probably wasn’t going to be a job for me when I came back.”
That uncertainty was soon replaced with optimism thanks to an innovative program that helped Webb pivot to a career in technology. She enrolled in a pilot project facilitated by Calgary Economic Development called EDGE UP (which stands for Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project) that was created to aid displaced energy workers by using a skills mapping process to match engineers and geoscientists with in-demand technology roles.
“For a lot of jobs right now, you need to have a four-year degree and that’s just not something you can commit to if you need to have a job and support your family,” says Webb, who recently accepted a data analyst position at a Calgary-based midstream energy company.
EDGE UP programs include IT Project Management, Data Analysis and Full Stack/Software Development. With funding from the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre, EDGE UP is a collaboration between Calgary Economic Development, University of Calgary, Bow Valley College, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the Information and Communications Technology Council and Riipen — a tech company that collaborates with post-secondary institutions to create coursework that addresses real-world challenges.
“Our moral obligation is that we try to help as many people [in Calgary] transition into tech as possible.” – Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development
Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, says its critical highly skilled workers in Calgary are transitioned to fill technology roles. By 2022, Alberta companies will spend $18.4 billion digitizing their businesses, according to a study commissioned by Calgary Economic Development and conducted by International Data Corporation Canada.
“Our moral obligation is that we try to help as many people [in Calgary] transition into tech as possible,” says Moran. “It is going to require us to ensure post-secondaries are pumping out talent, that people are staying here and that we attract people.”
It’s a requirement the provincial government also recognized and in October 2020 announced $6.3 million in funding for the University of Alberta in Edmonton to support leading-edge research in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), health science, seniors care and advanced laser technology.
Positioning Alberta as a world leader in advanced AI technologies, $4.5 million of the funding will support AI research at the university’s Centre for Autonomous Systems in automated transportation, medical robots and manufacturing. The remaining funds are earmarked for strategic investments, including development of a world-class facility that studies the use of lasers in potential treatments for skin diseases and cancer, and in remote sensing solutions for the oil sands.
While university research funding will help the province continue to graduate world-class experts in their respective fields, for transitioning workers like Webb, it was the short-term nature of the EDGE UP program that made it especially attractive.
“It gives people the opportunity to stay,” Webb says about why the pilot project makes Calgary a compelling place to live and work. “I grew up here. I want to stay here.”