Despite major layoffs in Alberta’s bedrock industry from slumping oil prices, a new father and student is optimistic about a career in that field.
Lanny Wheeler, who was named after one of his father’s hockey heroes, former Calgary Flames captain Lanny McDonald, doesn’t live his life worrying about the future.
“I’m a big believer that things work out,” he said in an interview at SAIT Polytechnic where he attends classes. “If you’re a good person, it gets paid back.”
A year ago, at the age of 37, he decided to return to school.
His job with Canada Post had changed in ways that left him feeling frustrated and tired. Lugging heavy bags of mail through winter snowstorms and blistering summer heat was affecting his well-being and his home life.
So, he quit and enrolled at SAIT.
“I would rather work for $10 an hour and be happy than [work for] $25 and be miserable,” he said. “I decided to use my brain instead of my backbone.”
SAIT currently does not keep track of how many mature students enrol, but its website reports that enrolment in diploma, certificate, applied degree and baccalaureate degrees increased to 9,753 in 2014/15 from 9,306 in 2013/14.
There was also an increase in enrolment in apprenticeship programs to 8,777 in 2014/15 from 7,962 in 2013/14.
Wheeler’s search for a new career led him to SAIT’s Accounting – Oil and Gas Production certificate course.
“I know it’s not the best time to be going into this industry,” Wheeler said, adding that he is still optimistic. “It’s basically production accounting. You take in and verify volumetric data from the wells. It’s still a job the industry needs.”
He is fast-tracking the course, which means he’ll complete the program in five months instead of two years.
However, with the sudden downturn in the Alberta economy, Wheeler wondered whether his timing was off.
It was his wife, a registered nurse on maternity leave with their first child, who encouraged him to make the move.
“She’s very supportive. She said, ‘You know, you gotta just do it,’” he said.
His daughter was two weeks old when he started, but he’s managed to balance the course load with family life.
“Things are tight. We don’t go out much,” he said. “But then, you don’t go out much with a three-month old anyway.”
Despite the downturn, Wheeler is confident that he’ll find work when he completes the program.
“They’re not shutting down wells, they’re just not starting up new ones.”
It’s this confidence that has defined most of his decisions, he said.
“I’ve made choices about my life from the day I got out of high school, and they’ve all led to here,” he said.
He had done well in high school and had always been good with numbers, and he’s doing well now.
“It’s awesome. I love it. I’m in the top of the class,” Wheeler said.
However, he’s not worried if he can’t find work in his field after graduation.
It’s more about accomplishing something, he said.
I’m a big believer that things work out. – Lanny Wheeler
When his daughter is grown and she asks him what he did in life, he’ll be able to tell her that he came to SAIT and earned a certificate, Wheeler said.
And if he doesn’t get a job right away, he’ll dig ditches or whatever he can find.
“My life has been pretty damn good so far,” he said.