New student seats to fix labour shortage

By Emily Senger

A new agreement between the University of Calgary and SAIT could address massive labour shortages in the oil and gas sector by adding as many as 250 new seats at the U of C by September 2006 and eventually as many as 1,534 seats across the two institutions.

U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten and SAIT President and CEO Irene Lewis signed a memorandum of understanding Fri., Nov. 4. The Calgary Coalition to Advance Alberta’s Energy, Environment and Innovation Strategies is a formal agreement between the institutions to request money from the Alberta government’s Access Fund to create the seats.

If approved, 650 undergraduate seats and 350 graduate seats may eventually be added to faculties at the U of C.

“It’s not just for engineers,” said Weingarten. “It speaks to law, social sciences, business and environmental design. We need broad-based growth.”

According to Weingarten, the U of C and SAIT will know by January if the funding for the seats is approved. In addition to new seats, Weingarten also mentioned some of the funds could be used for a new building to house the U of C’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy.

Lewis explained the 534 seats she requested on behalf of SAIT are needed to help fill a skilled labour shortage in the energy industry.

“These last three years the industry has been coming to SAIT with increased frequency to discuss the lack of skilled workers,” said Lewis. “We will combine our strengths to better meet the needs of the energy sector.”

Nexen Inc. President and CEO Charlie Fisher, Alberta Minister of Energy Greg Mechin and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President Pierre Alvarez were also at the announcement to convey the industry’s urgent need for skilled labour in the Alberta oil sands.

“The Alberta oil sands hold vast potential for our province and our country but to be successful we also need qualified people to extract the resource and build the infrastructure,” commented Fischer. “Canadian energy reserves are second only to those in Saudi Arabia. It’s a huge opportunity but also a huge responsibility.”

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