Upgrading skills leads to dream job
CALGARY — Deanna Burgart always knew she wanted to get a chemical engineering degree but, as it does for a lot of people, life got in the way.
“Being a single parent... a four-year university degree just wasn’t an option at the time,” she says. “I wanted to get an employable education.” So she did.
After upgrading her high school courses at age 22, she earned her chemical engineering diploma in 2000, found a job she loved and worked for eight years in the energy industry while raising her child, and meeting and marrying her husband. Yet, the desire to get her four-year chemical engineering degree was always there.
“I just have a huge passion for the industry that I’m in,” she says. “It’s something that I wanted to do from the beginning.”
Leaving the stability of a successful career and well-paying job is difficult, says Burgart. “It was a tough decision,” she says. “It’s like having kids — there’s never a perfect time to stop what you’re doing for an extended period of time.”
Despite the unknowns, she sold her house, uprooted her family, went to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay for two years — with two full years of credit for her existing credentials — and began the journey toward her degree.
With one course left to complete, she moved back to Calgary in January 2010 and finished the remaining degree requirements at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering while volunteering with one of the institution’s mentoring programs.
“It was probably the 2½ of the most stressful years of my life — it was a pretty intense program — but I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Burgart, who is now a chemical engineer in Calgary working in the lucrative oil and gas industry.
“You are the master of what you learn and what you achieve,” says Burgart. “A lot of people rely on their companies for training and personal growth, which is great — there are a lot of companies out there that do that — but you still have to be the owner of that. Just do it. Don’t wait for somebody else to give you that opportunity.”
Going back to school after spending several years in the workforce can be intimidating for anybody, no matter what your background. Burgart’s perseverance paid off well and she achieved her goals. She advises anybody considering such a move to consider it carefully, but once you decide on a clear direction, just do it.
“Sometimes you need to decide that you have to go for it,” says Burgart. “If it’s something that you truly want to do, don’t wait for the perfect time to do it because there won’t be (one).”
Allison MacKenzie, a recruiter specialist that works with university graduates to help them define a career path, understands why people would pick the paycheque over the dream.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about going back to school, but if you really want to go into any career, there is always uncertainty,” says Mackenzie. “It’s not something to be taken lightly, for obvious reasons, but at the same time you have to ask yourself if you are happy.”
There are also grants available from different levels of government for retraining and education, as well as scholarships that target people who’ve been working in the labour market for a while and who want to upgrade or change careers.
“Do your research,” MacKenzie says. “It’s not like you have anything to lose by going online and finding out what might apply to you or benefit you if you decide to make that decision.”
It’s not always about getting more education or more money or getting a promotion, says MacKenzie. The point of any career should be fulfilment.
The bills always need to be paid, of course, but it’s common for people to go through many careers throughout their lifetimes in today’s economy.
“My career has been a lifelong learning process,” she says.
— Calgary Herald