Luke Willms: Energy Fan and Family Man

Dawson Creek plant operator says Canada’s energy industry gave him purpose, passion and a good livelihood he wasn’t always sure he’d find growing up in a small town.

Whether it was the broad question of what to do with his life or a narrower one about process improvement, Luke Willms has always worked tirelessly to get the answers. More often than not, the path to a solution went through the oil and natural gas industry, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“In high school, I was pondering my next move and saw some friends returning from the rigs with big checks, so I thought I would follow suit.”

As fate would have it, his fiancé’s uncle worked in the energy industry and advised him to take a power engineering course instead of become a labourer on the rigs. Though he had no idea what was involved until four months into the program, the light soon came on and his career took off.

“I earned my 4th Class Power Engineering Certificate in 1996 and got a summer job with Husky Oil in Rainbow Lake. I really took a liking to the work and just knew I’d found my place.”

While at Rainbow Lake, Luke earned his 3rd Class Power Engineering Certificate, and has since also achieved a Journeyman Instrumentation Certification. Thanks to an insatiable curiosity and a knack for teaching others, he saw his career progress steadily from there. Last year, he applied his extensive technical knowledge to become lead operator of the Saturn sweet gas plant for Encana near his home in Dawson Creek, B.C.

Luke’s story is not an uncommon one—in resource towns throughout northeastern B.C., across Western Canada, and other resource rich places like Newfoundland and Labrador, the oil and natural gas industry is a mainstay employer. The industry provides uniquely dynamic opportunities for young men and women to work, earn a livelihood for their families, and develop thriving careers.

Luke attributes his success to being a “sponge for information”; he truly thrives on coaching, mentoring and sharing his knowledge.

“I enjoy teaching someone about a process or how to do something better. Last week I was helping a fellow with a technical issue and when it suddenly clicked for him, I could just feel his sense of accomplishment. That is the most rewarding part of my job.”

For Luke, giving back by helping others succeed is only natural in an industry that has given him so much. He’s especially grateful for the chance to support his family and enable his wife to be a full-time mother for their three teenage sons. On a professional level, the industry has been a source of purpose that, at one time, he wasn’t sure he’d find.

“I struggled in high school, but as soon as I entered the oil and gas sector I started succeeding because I had an interest. The more I learned about processes and technical aspects, the more I wanted to learn.”

When he’s not working or pursuing his beekeeping hobby, Luke sometimes lies awake at night thinking about an industrial process problem. He’s quick to point out, though, that this is motivated not by stress but by a desire to solve the puzzle. Where some may skim the surface of an issue, Luke digs deep until an answer emerges.

One thing he doesn’t lose sleep over, however, is his company’s role in the community.

“I’m so pleased with the relationships Encana has built through efforts like the Courtesy Matters program. When my kids come home from school and tell me about a talk on career opportunities given by one of our staff, it makes me proud that we’re engaging students about their future.”

That pride extends to the industry itself and prompts him to clear up misconceptions when the need arises. Every business has areas for improvement, but Luke likes to focus on how the energy sector is always striving to do things better, often in the face of financial or engineering challenges.

“Flaring is a perfect example, as it’s something we must do that is often misunderstood. If the subject comes up, I talk about mandatory flare licenses and the many flare reduction initiatives we’ve worked on. When people know the reasoning and the extensive tracking and monitoring that takes place, it leads to greater understanding and more thoughtful discussion.”

Ultimately, Luke hopes that others share his appreciation for the industry and all that flows from it.

“This sector provides good jobs, heats our homes and keeps the lights on. Take away oil and natural gas and we’d be shivering in the dark, so supporting the industry is something I don’t think twice about.”

Of course, that won’t keep him from being inquisitive. But when it comes to finding a path that aligns with his values and furthers his goals, Luke Willms has the answer.

No question about it.

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • Luke Willms Lead operator, Saturn sweet gas plant, Encana