For many aspiring engineers, getting accepted into an EIT (Engineer-in-training) program is the first step towards an exciting career.
The transition, however, can be daunting. Labs and lectures are one thing – putting forth professional-level work in a completely new environment is another.
Every year, Suncor Energy onboards many fresh-faced engineers, and provides them with opportunities to not only contribute to one of the leading energy companies in Canada, but also to support them as they take on this next stage in their careers. We had the opportunity to catch up with four of their EITs, and learn how Suncor Energy has impacted their careers for the better.
Cheryse’s passion for engineering began when she was only 12 or 13. Cheryse was visiting a friend, when she found an AutoCad program on their father’s computer. The friend’s father explained he had been designing a pressure valve of some sort.
Something about that drawing struck a chord in Cheryse. A few years later, she began pursuing her engineering degree, eventually focusing on chemical engineering. She later was fortunate enough to land a co-op role with Suncor – her first window into the industry.
“I think I was excited for the EIT program because my co-op experience was so positive,” says Cheryse. “I was put in a position where I was given responsibilities and the opportunity to make the work my own. And my managers were very supportive – it felt good to have a pat on the back.”
On a day-to-day basis, Cheryse works in the field, where she attends a morning construction meeting, which determines your tasks for the day. She works with various groups, and contacts project managers to find out what’s required from a logistics perspective, and working with 3rd parties.
“In school, it was very rhythmic and technical,” says Cheryse. “But for the last 3 years, I’ve been working on managing and coordinating logistics – and I find this is where I shine. This role is very “outside the box”. It’s a lot of knowing when to push and when to motivate, so it’s pretty neat.”
One of the biggest ways Suncor’s EIT program exceeded Cheryse’s expectations was the mentorship program. She says having someone looking out for your development is one of the most crucial parts to becoming a balanced engineer. On top of that, Cheryse says she enjoys having the chance to explore different parts of the company.
“I initially assumed that when you get a role, you stay there until you gain your P. Eng (Professional Engineer Designation),” says Cheryse. “But with Suncor you have the opportunity to move around and see different scopes of work.”
In summary, Cheryse believes the Suncor EIT program is a great way for aspiring engineers to find their place in the industry – but more importantly, it allows young professionals to explore their options.
“When you graduate, you might think ‘great, I’m a Chemical Engineer,’” she says. “But what does that mean? Suncor gives you the opportunity to explore a big company so you can be well rounded and have the experience to find out what your true passion is.”
Jonathan has always been fascinated with how things work. As a Mechanical Engineer, he says he loves working with moving parts – finding out how things come apart, and how they come together.
He did his first co-op term with Suncor while he was studying at Memorial University in Newfoundland. But when he was offered the opportunity to work as an EIT in Calgary, he jumped on the chance.
“I love working hands-on,” he says. “Right now I’m office based, but I’m looking to eventually move into the field.”
Even though he’s not in the field yet, there’s plenty for Jonathan to learn in his current position. As a Mechanical EIT for the Maintenance Department in Fort Hills, he’s responsible for making sure all the materials and assets involved in their current project are reliable and sound.
“If you would look at my position in a smaller company, it might not be as exciting,” says Jonathan. “But at Suncor, our equipment is some of the largest in the world. It’s big stuff – pretty amazing!”
Jonathan’s amazing experiences go beyond his daily tasks. One of the highlights of his program so far was when he had the opportunity to work on the planning committee of Suncor’s EIT Engineering Conference. He had the chance to learn the ins and outs of planning a large scale event, and connect with people outside of his department – on top of all that, he was available during the conference to answer EIT related questions for the attendees.
“Even though you’re an EIT at a large company, you still get the chance to get these cool experiences,” says Jonathan. “You have a lot of say in your rotation and your career path, whether you can to go technical or take a leadership position.”
Bottom line, Jonathan’s advice for aspiring EITs is to not be afraid to put yourself out there.
“Have those discussions with your manager,” he says. “If you don’t provide your aspirations, no one can guess what you want to do for your career. And that’s critical for an EIT – you want to get the experiences you’re interested in.”
As a University of Waterloo grad and Ottawa native, Angela was excited to begin a new career adventure when she began working at the Petro Canada Lubricants Plant in Mississauga, Ontario as a Chemical Engineer.
When she first started university, Angela recalls she didn’t fully understand what a chemical engineer did. But as her studies went on, she grew to love the technical nature of the work she did. Of course, her time at Suncor only sealed her passion for her work.
Suncor’s EIT program is rotational, which means all EITs will have the opportunity to try different roles during the course of their program. Angela has been on board for almost 2 years, which has given her ample time to learn her position inside-out.
“My first role is a Process Engineering EIT,” she says. “We do process design work for a large capital project, which is really cool when you’re new to the role. It’s a challenge right from the start because you don’t necessarily have those skills right yet.”
Angela’s very first project as an EIT involved designing a grease storage tank. She says while it may seem like a simple task, there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration. Your decisions need to be supported by facts, and your recommendation will be taken into careful consideration.
“That project is getting built right now,” says Angela. “Since then, I’ve worked on more detailed projects… I’ve worked on projects that involve detailed hydraulic calculations, which resulted in a redesign of the system.”
Suncor’s Development Rule: 70-20-10
Angela says that Suncor offers a guideline for learning in the form of their 70-20-10 rule.
- 70% of your learning will come from new experiences – taking on new projects, and learning on the job.
- 20% of your learning will come through others – Suncor provides a mentorship program, and EITs have the opportunity to ask questions at any time.
- 10% of your learning will come through structured learning – there are opportunities to do courses through Suncor. For instance, Angela had the chance to take a course on problem solving during her placement!
Angela says one of the best parts of working at Suncor is their focus on accelerated development. Of course, this comes with a learning curve that begins on your very first day – but she says that it’s completely worth it.
“It helps you feel like what you’re doing is meaningful,” she says. “And at the end of the day, the business is better off because you’re a part of it.”
Dieter began his career with Suncor through their internship program. 4 internships later, he was excited to begin his placement in the EIT program.
“I like working with equipment,” says the mechanical engineer. “I’ve always been into cars, but I wasn’t very good at physics or math. Mechanical engineering touches on all types of engineering and eventually leads to project management… every day I’m working on something different!”
Like most EITs, Dieter is working on a rotational program. Right now, he’s working as a Project Engineer. He works with a cross-functional team – consisting of team-members across different disciplines, such as designers, planners, operators, etc. – and manages the project from start to finish. There are a lot of components to take into consideration as well, such as budgets and scheduling.
Since Dieter is a Mechanical Engineer, he’s developed a lot of skills in his field of work. He says he’s gained skills in everything from non-authoritative leadership to communication to technical skills. He’s worked in the plants and he says the company frequently gives EITs the opportunity to work outside their comfort zones. However, there are many aspects of the industry that he wasn’t expecting to learn about during his placement.
“Since I’m a mechanical engineer, I didn’t expect to learn as much about the process,” says Dieter. “There are so many parts to our unit. We make hydrogen, steam, and more. And as I do my job, I gain transferable skills that can help me in different industries.”
Of course, after 4 Suncor internships, Dieter said that returning for the company’s EIT program was an easy sell for him. While he knew the programs were great, he says the main thing that kept him coming back was the network of great people.
“I like that there’s a lot of EITs like myself to hang out with,” he says. “We go on social and technical sessions, and help each other through different projects… even as an intern, I knew that the company was really focused on helping you develop.”
That development is offered through daily challenges at work – challenges that Dieter is more than happy to accept. He says that his role keeps him on his toes, and that he’s never become bored in his role, in all the time that he’s been with Suncor.
“It’s really easy for me to recommend working here,” he says. “Every day, I’m given more responsibility and challenging assignments that will help me become a more confident professional engineer. Right now I’m working on multi-million dollar projects as a 25-year-old. I never dreamed I’d lead those.”