Skill shortage could limit oil sands staff expansion

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Alberta’s oil sands industry is expected to increase its workforce by 73 per cent by 2021, but it will be finding the skilled staff that is the biggest problem.

"The oil sands sector entered 2012 with a healthy dose of optimism, with all indicators – notably stable oil prices and strong international investment – pointing to continued expansion," says Cheryl Knight, executive director and CEO of the Petroleum HR Council. "Demand for more workers is being driven primarily by growth in the sector; however, our research tells us that the supply of skilled workers remains very tight.”

She expects shortages to get worse in the future and says the sector may have to hire 116 per cent of its current employment levels due to industry expansion, retirements and losing people to other industries.

Workforce costs will become more difficult to manage as the labour market turns back to being employee-driven, the Petroleum HR Council report says, and the oil sands sector will have to find ways to work with the construction, maintenance and oil and gas support services sectors.

Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal says high-calibre quality professionals are always in demand in the industry. “We know there will be a tight labour market and the demand for highly skilled workers, given that increasing global demand for our products and the planned growth within our industry, we know that situation exists. We have done what we can to offset any potential impacts,” she says.

The company had a staged 10-year growth plan and has made changes to its growth plan based on the last period of growth. It would keep its workforce manageable and will not over-man a site, and is focused on employee retention. The company also supports university and technical institutions that offer programmes that feed its workplace.

“We also look to industries that have had a downturn, such as the forestry sector in BC, and we look for potential employees that would have transferable skills,” says Seetal.

Growth in the natural resources sector is driving employment figures in Canada – the most recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey shows Canadian employers expect the hiring climate to remain upbeat for the second quarter of 2012.

Increasing demand from the natural resource industry accounted for a significant portion of the rise.

“We’re seeing the largest jump from the first quarter to now in natural resources. There’s demand from the oil, gas and mining industries,” Manpower Canada director of marketing Janis Sugar says. “Western Canada has the biggest anticipated increase, which jibes with the industry figures.”

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