From Collapse to Rise: Oil Workers of NL find a new career in the province’s tech sector | Atlantic


ST. JOHN’S, NL – Adam Lichter says he spent his final year in the Newfoundland and Labrador oil industry learning to code while working on a supply ship in an oil field about 350 kilometers offshore of St. John’s.

It was 2015, and he was spending his days operating autonomous underwater vehicles in the Terra Nova oilfield and his nights learning programming languages, driven by the ever-present threat of layoff in the way. boom-to-bust industry, he said.

Lichter is one of a growing number of former oil workers who have found new careers in the province’s tech sector, working as a software developer for the smart thermostat company Mysa in St. John’s.

“Working abroad has had huge benefits,” Lichter, 37, said in a recent interview. “But working for the tech industry, I come home every night and see my family. The hours are more flexible.”

Mysa is one of many tech companies cited as examples of what’s possible in the province, often alongside local juggernaut Verafin, which was acquired by the Nasdaq in February.

In a video posted by Memorial University to Twitter on Nov. 19, Verafin co-founder Jamie King told an alumni event that his financial fraud detection company employs around 800 people, 600 of whom are from across the country. university. Mysa, five, now employs around 100 people and as of last week there were 16 vacancies on the company’s website.

By comparison, the Terra Nova offshore oil project directly employed 422 people as of June 30, according to a report by its majority owner, Suncor Energy. That’s about 400 people less than he employed in 2015, when Lichter was there.

Overall, Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil projects lost more than 6,000 employees in the province between 2015 and 2020, according to operator reports. As of June 30, about 3,100 people were directly employed at the province’s four offshore facilities, according to reports.

Jan Mertlik, co-founder of St. John’s Get Coding Company, created to help fill the tech skills gap, said about 20 percent of its students are oil and gas workers. The majority of them are still working in the industry and preparing to make a change. “What we are hearing from them is that they feel a lot of uncertainty about the industry and the unsustainability of the lifestyle,” he said in a recent interview.

Robert Forsythe, CEO of dairy technology company Milk Moovement, bristles at the idea that the switch from oil to technology is a game for young people. He hopes to hire between 10 and 15 new people in Newfoundland and Labrador next year, and he has set a goal of at least two of them “retraining, re-educating or upgrading their skills. ‘other industries,’ he said.

A hypothetical 47-year-old oil and gas worker from rural Newfoundland, for example, is “exactly what we had in mind,” Forsythe said in a recent interview.

“I think that downplays a bit of saying ‘Well not everyone can be a coder at this age’,” he said, noting that people with marketing or management skills project are just as valuable in the new economy as coders. “Obviously, to be an operations specialist at Exxon, you have to understand how to get things done and work with many different stakeholders, and that’s no different than what we do every day,” he said. he declares.

Christina Fong is a former oil and gas engineer who now works as the Customer Success Manager at CoLab Software in St. John’s. Fong grew up with oil and gas: her father worked in the industry for 40 years and inspired her to do a degree in mechanics. in Engineering at Memorial University, where internships were often done with oil and gas companies.

She graduated in 2015 and got a job in petroleum, but was quickly taken out. “I saw the rise of technology, which wasn’t about 10, 15, or 20 years ago,” Fong said in a recent interview.

She started at CoLab in 2019. The company tends to attract engineers because it creates collaborative software for engineering teams, she said.

“I and other engineers who work at CoLab constantly have conversations with people who either want to leave the oil and gas industry or are in the process of doing so,” she said. Fong said she is also seeing more and more engineering students seeking internships outside of oil and gas and in the tech industry.

For Lichter at Mysa, there is an added bonus: the company is focused on helping people reduce greenhouse gas emissions with smarter home heating.

“It makes me really proud to work with a company that has put an emphasis on the environment,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to say that I’m doing something now to help him rather than, you know, working overseas.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 6, 2021.


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