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Learning communities in the oil sands, and in remote and rural Alberta. Patrick Fahy & Nancy Steel Athabasca University Alberta North Access Symposium 8 May, 2008 Keyano College Fort McMurray. Origin of the Learning Communities Project.

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Learning communities in the oil sands and in remote and rural alberta

Learning communities in the oil sands, and in remote and rural Alberta.

Patrick Fahy & Nancy Steel

Athabasca University

Alberta North Access Symposium

8 May, 2008

Keyano College

Fort McMurray

Origin of the learning communities project
Origin of the Learning Communities Project rural Alberta.

  • Athabasca University model: open and distance university offerings on various “lines”

  • DE model: reduce barriers for remote, rural communities, camp residents, due to work, personal realities

  • Project funded by a donation from Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ), in-kind from AU.

    • Develop people, wants competitive advantage.

    • Do well while doing good.

Project objectives
Project objectives rural Alberta.

  • To transform the workplace and communities.

  • To address personal goals with respect to career change, advancement.

  • To find new ways of creating learning communities in rural and remote areas.

  • (For corporate sponsors): To address problems attracting and retaining skilled workforce

  • To identify and promote viable offerings from Alberta institutions

Project principles
Project principles rural Alberta.

  • Focus on 4 targeted audiences: camp workers, northern and rural residents, aboriginals

    • Initial focus on CNQ’s Horizon construction site workforce

  • Develop partnerships to provide access to range of target groups, based on ongoing assessment of needs, interests, and preferences

    - Offerings must offer “distance” access

  • Request that communities contribute access, time, expertise, and material support

What is distance education
What is distance education? rural Alberta.

Same time Different time


Same Place 1 2


Different Place 3 4


Communities of present lcp interest
Communities of present LCP interest rural Alberta.

  • Horizon site (mobile workers)

  • Wood Buffalo region (Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay)

  • Cold Lake (town and CFB Cold Lake)

  • Three Hills

  • Wabasca

  • Fort St. John, B.C.

Horizon site facts
Horizon site facts rural Alberta.

  • Located 70 Km north of Fort McMurray

  • Construction commenced 2001

  • Production projected for August 2008

  • Will use open pit mining

Horizon site by the numbers
Horizon site by the numbers rural Alberta.

Total workers on site = 19,948

  • Construction contract workers = 18,844

  • CNQ employees = 1,104

  • Workers residing in lodges = 8, 250

  • Daily avg. workers on site = 8,353

    (April 30, 2008)

Challenges for construction industry in alberta at horizon site
Challenges for construction industry rural Alberta.in Alberta & at Horizon site

  • Reliance on a mobile workforce

    • Expensive – the workforce comes from across Canada –Deer Lake, NFLD, by example

  • Retiring workforce

    • Contributes to skill shortages in construction industry – avg age of construction mobile workers in Alberta is over 45 years of age – contributes to skills shortage, especially experienced construction workers

  • Need for exceptionally high level of project management, especially in oil sands operations

    • LCP identified project management as a popular learning interest

  • Life-work balance difficult to achieve

    • Long shifts, physically demanding, work camp living (5 work camps), high security, family away

      Alberta Employment and Immigration. (2007). A workforce strategy for Alberta’s construction industry.

Lcp activities on site
LCP activities on site rural Alberta.

  • Project “launches” at 5 camps

    • Set-up in lobby areas

    • Materials on hand, staff available to answer questions and take requests for detailed information

    • Researcher present to record nature of inquiries & requests

  • Speaker series

    • “Eating for Health”

    • “Life Balance”

  • MBA Sessions

    • The AU MBA program

  • Findings learning preferences expressed
    Findings: Learning preferences expressed rural Alberta.

    • 36% Business, Finance & Management

      • MBA

      • Project Management

      • Business Administration, Accounting, and HR

  • 34 %Trades & Engineering

    • Blue Seal

    • Health & Safety

    • Red Seal

    • APEGGA courses or exam preparation

  • Findings learning interests expressed
    Findings: Learning interests expressed rural Alberta.

    • Others:

      • Computer applications, including Microsoft Office

      • English as a Second Language

      • Languages – Spanish, Italian, French

      • Academic upgrading, or grade 12 equivalency

      • General interest: fitness, guitar, flight training, martial arts

    Responses to inquiries
    Responses to inquiries rural Alberta.

    • Inquiries collected at project launches and information booths, or by email, and forwarded to AU Advising for a timely response

    • Inquiries documented by Research Facilitator

    • Inquiries followed up by RF as quality assurance measure

      • Receive information sought? Any action taken? Further questions?

    Issues challenges
    Issues & challenges rural Alberta.

    • Communication on-site is complicated – no common link, many work group list serves

    • Organizing events time-consuming and complex – procedures and people constantly changing

    • Audience is shift / mobile workers; may be temporary foreign workers – education dedication may be low

    • Computer/internet access not always available to or used by all

    • Potential students often not familiar with, or actually skeptical about, distance education – we are investigating this

    Research products to date
    Research products to date rural Alberta.

    • Seven Occasional Reports

    • Interim Report 1

    • Literature annotations

    • Paper submitted to peer reviewed journal

      “Post-Secondary Learning Priorities of Workers in an Oil Sands Camp in Northern Alberta” (In review)

    • Baseline study

      “Programming Available and Requested in Remote Areas of Alberta” (In progress)

    Next steps
    Next steps rural Alberta.

    • Continue regular information and speaker sessions at the Horizon site

      • Population will soon change once into production

  • Intensify research into learning interests in other identified communities outside the oil sands

  • Continue Occasional Reports (formative evaluation)

  • Continue to produce papers for peer-reviewed journals (dissemination)

  • Continue to evaluate project operations (1 more interim report, final report at project end)

  • For more information
    For more information … rural Alberta.

    • Website: http://www.athabascau.ca/lc/

    • Email: asklc@athabascau.ca

    Thank you for your interest
    Thank you for your interest rural Alberta.

    • Pat Fahy (patf@athabascau.ca)

      • 866-514-6234

    • Nancy Steel (nancys@athabascau.ca)

      • 866-569-8051