A career change was not the original plan, but the evolving renewables sector proved to be an ideal opportunity for Oksana
The world is betting big on solar. In 2022, the EU alone saw solar employment rise by an estimated 30% to approximately 600,000 direct and indirect jobs. By 2030, this number could skyrocket to over 1 million, opening doors for thousands of workers currently employed in other sectors. While the numbers speak for themselves, the real life accounts of solar workers who are committed to creating a sustainable future are even more compelling.
When Oksana Treacy was laid off from her oil and gas job in 2015, her first instinct was to find another position in the same sector. After all, she’d trained as a chemical engineer and worked in the oil and gas industry since graduating university. By the time she was laid off, Treacy was divorced with three children, leaving her with significant financial considerations as she navigated a difficult job market. Moreover, she loved working in oil and gas and wasn’t looking to switch careers.
“I originally didn't want to [leave the industry], but after looking for a year unsuccessfully I basically had this moment,” Treacy explains over a Zoom call. It occurred to her that her skills were no longer needed by the industry she’d come to know and love. “I didn't ever see it as being about me necessarily, but just the situation,” she explains, a realization that prompted her to ask a transformative question: where did she want to go next?
If she was going to pivot, she wanted to do so in an intentional way. Guided by a desire to find inspirational work, she came up with renewables on the premise that if a transition was unfolding, then only by educating herself could she better understand what was really going on. More importantly, she wanted to apply herself in a purposeful way. The decision to embrace change led Treacy back to school where she obtained a master’s degree in sustainable energy development. After graduating, she joined SkyFire Energy, a Certified B Corporation and solar panel installation contractor serving Western Canadian communities. While she was familiar with the company, having done her capstone project with them, she admits to having landed work in a complex and ever changing industry. While many skills required by solar companies can be carried over from other industries, a significant learning curve still exists for many making the transition. For someone like Treacy, the transition not only entailed a change in industry, it also involved a transition from petroleum engineering into project management focused on electrical systems.
“It’s not a stagnant industry,” she explains. “The renewable aspect of it, the technology, it's all fairly new, especially in Alberta. So, even if you do know things, it's tough to keep on top of it.” Yet for this exact reason, the industry is ripe with opportunities. And they’re looking for the right people, many of whom can be found working in today’s oil and gas industry.
“I just hired six people over the last three weeks,” said Sky Fire’s CEO, David Kelly in an interview with the Financial Post. “There are many ongoing jobs in electrical and maintenance work. Just about every electrician I have hired has done work in oil and gas.”
Yet when I asked Treacy if it’s been easy to find workers, she quickly tells me that it’s actually been difficult to fill positions, with apprentices and electricians accounting for the majority of their core workforce.
Clearly, today’s workforce is still evolving to meet the demands of this growing industry, but for those who are eager to jump in, opportunities, especially in electrical, abound.
post by freelance writer Emma Gammons
Editor's Note: Oksana and SkyFire Energy were part of our RenuWell project.
This blog is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.