‘It’s kind of heartbreaking’: Unemployed Calgary geophysicists look for new ways to use skills

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WATCH: What used to be a high-paying, bulletproof career is now one that has many people laid off and looking for work. Like others in Alberta's oil and gas sector, geophysicists are now left to reimagine new career paths. Carolyn Kury de Castillo has more on a group of recent geophysics grads who are determined to make a go of it despite the grim job numbers – Oct 23, 2019

Back in 2013, everything was looking up for Keegan Valerio.

He had just started his geophysics degree at the University of Calgary, and getting a six-figure job in the oil patch seemed like a slam dunk.

“Geophysics stood out to me because it’s very creative and very imaginative,” Valerio said on Wednesday.

But those dreams crashed when the price of oil did.

“It’s kind of crushing. It’s kind of heartbreaking, if I’m going to be honest,” Valerio said.

Keegan graduated in April 2019 and hasn’t been able to find work as a geophysicist.

“As far as full-time work goes, I would say near impossible,” Valerio said.

“From my experience, there [are] only maybe one or two or three full-time geoscience job postings a year in Calgary. It’s pretty rough for an entry-level geoscientist with no experience. I have been fortunate that I’ve had a number of student jobs.”
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Matt Lennon graduated with a degree in geophysics and hydrogeology in 2017. Unable to find a job directly in oil and gas, he’s now working as a data scientist.

“Geophysics is a largely creative and different field in the sense that you learn all the fundamental skills in math and statistics but you also learn how to apply them in many different ways,” Lennon said.

While jobs have dwindled for graduates, the University of Calgary geophysics department is now focusing on developing entrepreneurial skills.

“What we are trying to do is develop a start-up and innovation culture among students here,” said geophysics professor David Eaton.

“They do acquire in the geophysics program quite a unique and remarkable skill set that allows them to tackle difficult problems and apply critical thinking skills.”

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Statistics from the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists show that the group’s active membership has plummeted by more than half this year from a high in 2013, while the number of retired and unemployed individuals has more than doubled.

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Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists data. Cody Coates/Global News

Valerio and Lennon are now working on ways to get employers to realize the versatility of geophysics skills — but it’s been a challenge.

“It’s tough to think outside the box and try to convince other people to see the value of a geophysicist in a non-geophysics role,” Valerio said.

The pair has helped organize a forum in Calgary aimed at teaching geophysicists how to use their problem-solving skills to create a process or service that would reduce risk to an oil company.

But they are also encouraging unemployed geophysicists to look at data science, banking and geothermal innovation as new career paths in the face of an uncertain future in oil.

A Junior Geophysicist Forum is being held in Calgary on Oct. 23 to help geophysicists find innovative ways to use their skills. It will be held at the Odd Fellows Hall from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.


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