February is Black History Month, and to mark it Vale News reached out to Vince Okojie, superintendent, Reliability, Copper Cliff Nickel Refinery, Port Colborne Refinery & Power department, for a Q & A. Vince has been with our company for almost three years.
Q: You worked for 20 years in the oil and gas industry. What was that like?
A: I started with Shell Oil & Gas in Nigeria, West Africa in 1998 as an Instrument/Metering specialist. After one month, I was transferred to a new project and location because the leadership at the time felt I could add more value working on a bigger asset. In 2003, I was transferred again to a different project, and this time I had the opportunity to work with people from all continents. It marked the first opportunity I had to be involved in a Diversity & Inclusion project and team. It was great! I learned about new cultures and dishes like British fish & chips, full English breakfast, French chicken confit, salmon en papillote (baking salmon in parchment paper), Australian fry-ups and more. I learned that the French invented the hot air balloon, the submarine, and the parachute, and that wearing a white wedding dress is a French tradition.
Then I moved into Maintenance and Reliability – this was the last team I worked with before moving my family to Calgary, Alberta in 2014. After I got my family settled in Calgary, I moved back to Nigeria to continue working. I travelled back and forth a lot, often staying with them for a month or two at a time.
Q: What made you decide to take the leap, and move to Canada permanently?
A: The catalyst was a birthday card I received from my daughters, Ahuose who was 12 at the time, and Oseirudute who was eight. They wrote how much they missed me and pleaded for me to stay with them in Canada permanently rather than going back and forth. I had a successful career that I worked hard to build, but I missed my family, so in 2018 I joined them permanently.
Q: What was it like to leave your successful, hard-earned career and carve out a new one in a new country?
A: It was not easy. But soon I had an interview with a Calgary-based company in the oil and gas sector and I completed three rounds of interviews successfully, and I was told my chances were very good. But then I was told the position was on hold, and after that I never heard back. A friend who works for the company followed up on my behalf to inquire. He was told that there was a new director and that person felt I was “too experienced for the role” but I later found out discrimination was involved. This was tough to take, I didn’t expect it.
Q: Can you share more about what happened, and how you felt?
A: My friend, who is Black and the only person of colour in the department, said this new director specifically said they didn’t want another Black person in the department. I learned the position was also given to someone from the same country as the director. I trusted this information because I had worked with my friend for four years by this point. My friend wanted to expose the director, but I told him not to jeopardize his career – it wasn’t worth it.
I admit that I started to question my decision to move myself and my family to Canada. Should I go back home? Should I uproot my family again? My career back home had been going so well. But then I thought about my kids and knew we had to stay. It’s a developing country and with that comes a whole range of problems: the crime rate is high; the infrastructure and services are inconsistent. For example, it’s not unusual for the electricity to be turned off, and unless you have a generator or a back up well, you’re stuck. My kids wouldn’t have a good future in Nigeria with the way the country is being governed and infrastructures. We had to stay in Canada.
Q: How did you move forward after that?
A: I came to realize that the bad experience was a one-off. I accepted the end result and moved on and decided that it wasn’t going to stand in my way of progressing my career. I kept an open mind in my day-to-day interactions with people, which I continue to do with everyone I meet, and everywhere I go. I thought a lot about how I could use my 20 years in Maintenance, Reliability, Projects, and Commissioning to improve the assets of another company, maybe one outside of oil and gas. That’s how I ended up at Vale.
Q: You were hired at Vale in 2019. What was it like transitioning from oil and gas to mining?
A: I am happy Vale gave me the opportunity, and it was not difficult to adapt my experience to help implement systems and processes. Vale is currently working on moving from a reactive to predictive maintenance as part of our transformational journey. I am glad to be part of the team to help make the transformation possible and sustainable.
Q: And how do you feel about Canada now?
A: Since that one bad experience, my perspective of Canada has changed a lot. There’s so much diversity of cultures and perspectives, and this is one of the things that makes Canada an exceptional place.
Q: Do you have advice for the next generation?
A: My advice to younger colleagues is to be open-minded. Think about how having diversity in your company and on your team can help you grow professionally, and as a person. Ask yourself what you can do to help make the world a global village. Share your knowledge wherever you go and learn new things.10