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The Outland Youth Employment Program: Experiencing a day in the life at Kearl

January 29, 2020

By Lacy Gielen

Exploring career opportunities for Indigenous youth in the Energy & Natural Resources sector

Throughout my career in the Energy & Natural Resources sector, one of the most rewarding aspects has been working with the Indigenous youth who participated in Alberta’s inaugural Outland Youth Employment Program last summer. As an Indigenous woman myself, I understand how important it is to support programs that strive to remedy the negative effects caused by the 1867 Canada Aboriginal Policy. I look beyond consultation and consent—my passion focuses on building up and encouraging Indigenous youth to create career opportunities for themselves, which may be in the Energy & Natural Resources sector. That’s why I believe in the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP).

OYEP is an incredibly valuable, community-driven initiative that “works towards equity and opportunity for Indigenous youth through land-based education, training, and work opportunities.” I had been interested in working with Indigenous youth for years, but the right opportunity never presented itself. Until I joined Stantec.

Currently, I provide operations support at Kearl—a project north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and operated by Imperial Oil. I saw an excellent opportunity for Stantec to partner with Imperial and OYEP—after all, we are all better together! Thanks to some great collaboration with our partners, the 23 Indigenous youth accepted into the six-week training program got to spend two days at Kearl.

Two OYEP participants pose for a picture while overlooking the Kearl open pit oilsands mine.

Introduction to OYEP

Operating in Ontario since 2000, OYEP has enrolled over 500 youths representing more than 70 Indigenous communities across the country. They had been working to adopt the program in western Canada for the last few years, and in 2019, OYEP officially expanded to Alberta.

The primary objective of OYEP is to fully immerse Indigenous youth into the Energy & Natural Resources sector. Our hope is that by providing youths with exposure to industries in the sector, they will be more inclined to choose career opportunities in that line of work. Part of OYEPs aim is “providing training and education in a supportive space that replicates various work environments.” So, a portion of the six-week program involved a two-day tour at Kearl.

The Kearl tour took place in August 2019 and included 23 Indigenous youth members, ranging from 16 to 18 years of age. Each of the participants had to apply for the program, so they were all excited to be there. We hosted the group for two full days and provided many learning opportunities—from an overview of the oilsands industry to safety orientations to specific roles and tasks integrated within mining operations.

Workers also took the group on tours of the mine, tailings, and reclamation areas, explaining to them what a day in the life of an oilsands worker looks like. The group even got to experience a night at Wapasu Creek Lodge to get a feel for what camp life is like for rotational workers! Some youths took advantage of the amenities and entertainment rooms, while others enjoyed quality time in their suites. Overall, the schedule was designed to provide a balanced understanding and experience for all group members.

A group of the OYEP participants pause for a photo while touring Imperial Kearl’s open pit oilsands mine.

My experience with the group

Over our two days at Kearl, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with the youths. We had our meals together, spent time sharing stories during our travels, and got to know each other more deeply.

My favorite part was how much the youths enjoyed their time at site. My second favorite aspect was how much I enjoyed spending my time with them. I found it to be very encouraging to share experiences with the youths and observe them connect with the operations happening in and around their traditional territory. It was great to see the level of interest during the tour. One student was captivated by geological studies, while another was more interested in reclamation and planting trees on site.

The primary objective of OYEP is to fully immerse Indigenous youth into the Energy & Natural Resources Sector.

I found the common characteristic amongst the students was the strong connection they felt to the land—they all believe in responsible environmental stewardship. One student was even shaken by the tailings ponds at Kearl, but once we explained the process, she understood that it was all part of a cycle to control and mitigate impact to the land. After pondering for a moment, she began to think she could see herself working here one day, using her connection to the land to execute environmentally sensitive work with the respect and attention the land deserves.

Overall, the youths were engaged and inquisitive. They asked each presenter—whether it was an Imperial engineer or a member of our operations support team—what they did on site, what they were responsible for, and how they got to where they were now. I found it really encouraging that their experience led them to focus on their own education and career paths—they all wondered how they could get those jobs themselves! Without a doubt, I assured them that they could attain any of their goals if they showed dedication.

At the end of the two days at Kearl, I was so glad that I was able to witness the numerous interactions the youths had with people of different career paths. I beamed with pride as they left site with smiles on their faces—a reflection of the positive experience they had together.

Imperial’s Mine contracts and business planning superintendent and field engineer stand for a picture with the group at Kearl.

Future opportunities with OYEP

It’s difficult to put into words how well the program worked. The schedule was tight, logistics were challenging, and there were a lot of moving parts—literally. But as an Indigenous woman, I know how important these experiences are for the students. I recognize the maltreatment and misrepresentation that Indigenous youths receive and perceive in the workforce. And I realize the bias—conscious or unconscious—that they feel in workplace settings. Programs like this are needed to help both the youths and employers overcome those challenges.

That’s why I was thoroughly delighted to observe the positive interactions that non-Indigenous workers were having with the youths. I’ve witnessed countless negative interactions toward my loved ones throughout my life. But over the two days on site, everyone was treated as part of the Kearl family. The youths all had a positive experience and I am very proud of—and thankful for—those involved in the program. After all, work doesn’t feel like work when you’re passionate about your purpose, believe in the cause, and are surrounded by good people!

And not only was I pleased with the program, but our partners at Imperial were so happy with the execution that they want to host it again next year. “They were a great group of students,” said Ian Nelson, mine contracts and business planning superintendent, Imperial. “They really enjoyed the tours and learning about the different roles here at Kearl. A number of them said they would really like to work at our site in the future!”

For me, that’s a home run.

Learn more about our Indigenous Relations team.

The OYEP group and Stantec Operations Support Team pose in front of the on-site field office at the Imperial Kearl Oilsands Mine.

  • Lacy Gielen

    A geological associate with our team in Calgary, Lacy has extensive geotechnical and geological investigation experience—she’s worked at some of the world’s largest oil sand companies.

    Contact Lacy
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