Belledune’s Contendo Training Solutions offers online competency, custom and safety training programs specially tailored to serve clients in the oil and gas sector, and other traditional industries. The company’s main programs are site-specific and unique to each customer’s facility and its specifications. Contendo’s offerings help improve both the efficiency and safety of oil and gas facilities across the continent.

Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Sandenn Killoran, Director of Business Development, to learn more about the company’s New Brunswick success.

ONB: Can you first give us an overview of Contendo’s founding and on what you offer?

Killoran: Contendo was founded in 2007 by its parent company Sancon Commissioning. Sancon consists of Atlantic Canadian oil and gas professionals; they decided to form a company focused exclusively on commissioning and startup.

After one of their projects, they were asked to stay on to teach incoming operators how to operate the newly commissioned facility. That wasn’t an ideal situation as they had another project to move to, so they partnered with a web firm in Bathurst to create Contendo Training Solutions.

Contendo now offers online competency training solutions that allow our knowledge of facilities to be passed on to future operators who come aboard. The lifecycle of many of these facilities is 20-25 years, and in the oil industry turnover is high. So to say you were going to stay on to train incoming operators could be a 20-year commitment; that wasn’t feasible. Contendo was born out of that situation.

Our first project for ConocoPhillips’ Surmont Phase 1 was completed in about nine months, which was quite good given the skeleton crew we had then. We went on to work with more oil and gas industry clients from there, building competency training packages for their facilities. We also went offshore and did one for Exxon Mobil in Hibernia.

ONB: How big is the Contendo team?

Killoran: We’re now at 18. That’s graphic designers, programmers, technical authors, support staff, and management. Twelve work in the office here in Belledune, six are scattered across the province. They all started here but some have moved to remote work.

ONB: And the company has plans to continue growing?

Killoran: Absolutely. It’s sometimes a challenge to find those creative industry professionals we need, however. When you’re a graphic designer or software programmer in this region, you don’t immediately think of Belledune for work. We’re always looking, and we’re hoping to hire at least four or five more people in the next few months.

We’ve recently undergone a bit of a diversification exercise; we’ve ventured into safety training. We’ll have a new site up soon offering an online WHMIS course, and an online Fundamentals of Oil Sands Production course. Moving forward we’ll also have a Hazard Assessment course, as well as a Confined Space Training course.

ONB: These are high-skill jobs you’ll be looking for. Does Contendo have any relationships with educational institutions to help with recruitment?

Killoran: Yes, the majority of our staff now are either NBCC or CCNB grads; we’re proud of that. We also have a Master’s student from the University of New Brunswick’s Computer Science Faculty helping us develop our new management solution that we’re expecting to launch either late this year or early 2016.

One thing we’re working on with CCNB now is acting as an intermediary for a French company called SPIE that’s looking to do competency training for power engineers in Cameroon. Between CCNB’s solid reputation, and the fact that the Canadian Red Seal program holds a lot of weight as far as international industry is concerned, we’re really hoping to create a relationship there that is mutually beneficial to all involved.

We’d love to get more into E-learning and curriculum development as well. We’ve looked into online literacy and language training; that’s well within our wheelhouse.

ONB: Tell us about ONB’s role with Contendo.

Killoran: When we first developed our Fundamentals Training course we received great financial assistance from ONB, as well as from ACOA. We’ve really received great support from both organizations.

ONB: Have you taken part in any trade shows or missions with our organization at all?

Killoran: Yes, we attended the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston this year along with ONB’s Export Development team. We’ve also been part of a past trade mission in Brazil.

Once we have the new site live and those new courses are ready to go, we’ll be able to drive more direct sales. At that point we’ll be able to refocus our efforts on going out and increasing brand awareness through travel and trade shows.

ONB: Are you from New Brunswick?

Killoran: I was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, but my parents are from Belledune, that’s why I’m here now.

ONB: You’ve worked outside the province, however, is that correct?

Killoran: Yes, I’ve worked in Calgary, and spent a year and a half working for a web development firm in Edmonton. The opportunity arose to come back home and take on leadership roles here, so here we are. We just moved into a new home; housing is much more affordable here in northern New Brunswick than it was in downtown Edmonton, so that’s a plus. It’s great to be home.

ONB: What do you feel are benefits of operating in New Brunswick?

Killoran: You really have to look at the comparatively low costs of doing business. We’re operating out of two offices in Belledune, one is an old building we refurbished, the other a farmhouse we also refurbished. To get the square footage we have here, on a monthly rental basis, I’d estimate you’re looking at roughly $3,000 a month in downtown Edmonton, if not more depending on the building and neighbourhood.

We think we’ve got the space and freedom to expand in New Brunswick, not just in rural areas, but even in bigger cities like Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John.

The talent is here. I think you may have to look harder in a small market and be active with the local educational institutes to recruit, but the talent is absolutely here. Given the choice, if you say to someone they can make a good living and stay here, people will opt to stay; people like it here.

ONB: We’ve talked to plenty of people who feel the work-life balance in New Brunswick is exceptional.

Killoran: Your commutes are short here for the most part. I lived 10 kilometres away from my office in Edmonton and it took me 45 minutes to get to work. We have people who live in Bathurst and drive to Belledune and their commute is still shorter than mine was, and I lived reasonably close to my office out there. Overall, I think New Brunswick is a good place to do business.

ONB: Where are your clients?

Killoran: Most of our work is done in Canada. Right now we’re about to start work with JACOS, the Japan Canada Oil Sands company. We’re doing technical writing for them to build their standard operations documents; that’s one of our core strengths. Along with digital production skills, we have a wealth of subject matter experts at our disposal that are able to write those documents that we transform into online training. We’ll continue to look for outside opportunities, but until then our work in Canada keeps us busy. We’re continuing to work directly with the Canadian arms of Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and Devon Energy.

ONB: What’s your best advice for other New Brunswick-based businesses or for those considering the province for business expansion?

Killoran: The biggest thing to look at it, at least as an IT or web development company, is to know you have the ability—due to the lower costs of doing business—to allow yourself time to grow. Where you’d perhaps have six months to make or break yourself in bigger cities, you likely have a year or two here. You need to stay agile though and that’s something we’ve learned over the last couple of years. Don’t get settled into a routine. If you can stay agile, and stay lean, you can find success here. With costs being lower here you have a bit more time to let your company develop, build a solid foundation, and keep growing from there.

It’s in our best interest to keep the New Brunswick offices going and growing. There may be challenges that come with it, but at the end of the day, when we’re in between major projects we still benefit from those reduced business costs. We have the ability to build new offerings like the new WHMIS course. That’s something we’ve been able to do because we operate in New Brunswick.

Cover image via Contendo