Finding Work in the Oil and Gas Industry

New legislation passed by the government of BC in 2003 that is expected to revitalize its oil and gas industry, and a boom in the Oil Sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, have increased the need for workers in an industry already experiencing a shortage of workers. But this increased need doesn?t mean just anyone can walk in the door and land a job. People looking to find work in the oil and gas industry must have the required education, skills, and experience for jobs in this industry just as they would if they were looking for work in any other industry.

It used to be that sufficient numbers of young, strong, healthy people entered the industry shortly after completing high school or a few years of college, and worked their way up the proverbial ladder. These workers kept staff levels topped up for decades. But over a decade ago, three phenomena happened almost simultaneously that started the shortage of skilled workers. First, an aging population resulted in a high rate of workers retiring, some as young as 50 years old, not all of whom stayed working in the industry in other capacities such as a consultant. Second, a recent shift in societal norms that placed a heavy emphasis on the value of a post secondary education resulted in many people choosing more glamorous careers than those found in the oil and gas industry. And third, years of oil and gas companies downsizing due to multiple mergers and acquisitions took a heavy toll on human resources with a lot of workers deciding to leave the industry in frustration after being ?packaged out? of several jobs in a very short period of time.

Retiring workers, less entrants into the industry, and downsizing resulted in a new trend of oil and gas companies outsourcing work wherever possible. This meant hiring fewer employees and hiring more contractors and consultants, and awarding contracts to service companies. Outsourcing helps keep a company?s overhead down, lowers the amount of salary and benefits paid to employees, and allows a company to staff up or down, depending on the economic climate or how well the company is performing.

Being aware of this new hiring trend, people who want to find work in the industry should also recognize that an industry as technical as the oil and gas industry requires a person to have a technical background, including the completion of several oilfield and safety courses and several years experience, before an employer will consider hiring them. Each type of position has its own specific requirements for education, skills, and experience. Researching each company you want to work for and which positions are available in those companies will determine how successful you are in finding work in the oil and gas industry. Learn how you can find work as an employee for an industry company, an employee for a service company, or as a consultant.

Finding Work as an Employee for an Industry Company

One of the biggest industry employers in northeast BC, Duke Energy Gas Transmission, employs 645 workers, most of which are trades positions. DEGT?s pipeline system, which spans more than 5,400 kilometers in the province, includes raw gas gathering lines, transmission lines, processing plants, and compressor stations. ?Career opportunities with DEGT are primarily in the gas processing plants. However, there are some opportunities with pipeline operations,? said Sue Malcolm, a spokesperson for Duke Energy Gas Transmission.

The types of jobs available in a pipeline company are as varied as they are technical. ?DEGT?s natural gas processing plants require operators and craftsmen. Operators include stationary and steam engineers which are designated trades as well as process operators which are not designated trades but do require certification. The types of craftsmen utilized in DEGT?s plants include: pipefitters, welders, insulators, industrial mechanics (millwrights), electricians, instrument mechanics, and electronic technicians. Warehousemen and heavy equipment operators are also sometimes needed,? said Malcolm.

But Malcolm says jobs with DEGT?s pipeline operations are limited once the pipe is in the ground. ?Operation and maintenance activities are focused primarily on maintaining the safety and integrity of the pipe. Typical pipeline jobs include: gas fitters, electricians, electronic technicians, automotive mechanics, heavy duty mechanics and land resource agents.?

As a pipeline company, the processing and transmission nature of DEGT?s business does not provide many opportunities for service companies. ?Maintenance and servicing activities undertaken for DEGT facilities are typically completed by DEGT staff. If outside services are required, they are secured on an as needed basis,? said Malcolm.

However, oil and gas companies outsource up to 75% of their field work. Through an internal bid process, contracts are awarded to service companies to perform civil construction and maintenance work, including road and lease building; electrical work; mechanical work, including welding and pipefitting; engineering work in the areas of civil, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, environmental, and chemical; and well drilling and servicing. Contracts are awarded based on technical and commercial components, which includes a review of the company?s safety record for the past three years, an essential component of every bid. Competition is tight and only service companies that have a proven track record of good performance, qualified labour, a better than industry average safety record, and have bid fair market value for material and labour, will be carefully considered.

The increase in demand for workers and contracting work out to service companies has some communities wondering why they aren?t on the receiving end of more jobs and contracts. Some smaller communities have stated that oil and gas companies should hire their citizens and award contracts to their businesses based solely on the fact that oil and gas companies are doing business in their area. Most operator companies prefer to hire locally and award contracts to service companies in the area of their operations, but citizens who are not qualified for oilfield jobs or businesses that do not provide a required service to the industry, will not be awarded jobs or contracts just because they are in close proximity to the company?s operations.

Finding Work as an Employee for a Service Company

If you?re a young, strong, healthy person, who is ambitious and eager to learn new skills, but you don?t have a technical background or several years experience in the industry, you can still find work. Mike Scott, president of CORE Pipelines Limited, offers this advice for people who find themselves in this situation. ?Your best option for entering the oil and gas industry is as a manual laborer. There is relatively no training for pipeliners except on the job so the best starting place for a person entering this industry is to find work as a pipeliner with a pipeline company and accumulate a few years of experience.?

For people who are ?green?, that is, a person who has not completed any prerequisite oilfield or safety courses and who does not have the required education or experience, a service company will still consider hiring these people. ?At CORE, we prefer to hire experienced people with proven track records, not only in production but in safety and community relations as well, to run our jobs as foremen. For the most part, we let the foremen hire their crews with people they are accustomed to working with. But when we need to hire a ?green hand?, we tend to look for a person who has some experience, a good attitude and work ethic, and sometimes we?ll go on our gut instinct to decide whether the person is a good fit with the job and our company. Before any ?green hand? starts work, we make sure they have successfully completed all mandatory oilfield and safety courses such as First Aid, WHMIS, H2S Alive, TDG, and CSTS or PST,? said Scott.

* Tune in next week for part two of this article and learn how to become a consultant, why safety is important for workers and service companies, and advice from employers on how to find work in the oil and gas industry.