In 2009, there were almost 58,000 oil patch jobs in Alberta. Analysts say if oil prices continue to rise, there would be about 102,000 jobs that need to be filled by 2020. According to a report by the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, Alberta may need nearly double the number of workers in its oil patch over the next decade. With a labour crunch looming, oil and gas companies are offering unique incentives to attract and retain employees.

Location, location, location
One barrier to recruitment is the geographic locations of the oil sands operations. Often workers are hesitant to relocate to these remote sites in northern Alberta. At Syncrude, one of the largest producers of crude oil from Canada’s oil sands, the HR department recognizes this hesitancy and offers housing support as incentives for workers relocating to northern Albertan city of Fort McMurray, where housing costs can be high because of the booming oil business.

Donelda Patterson, Syncrude’s manager of HR services explains that Syncrude has been offering the housing support program since June 2009. The program spans five years and provides up to $60,000 to employees to offset mortgage costs if they decide to purchase a home or $30,000 over five years to help offset rental costs.

“Location can be a problem,” admits Patterson, “but we do a good job of showing people that Fort McMurray has a lot to offer.”
Patterson also points to the support that Syncrude provides the community. For employees, the company offers a social club called Club 63 that both the company and employees contribute to. The club offers subsidized rates to concerts and the theatre. Syncrude also hosts family fun days for employees to get together and enjoy a day with their families.

On top of this, Syncrude offers a community investment program which helps fund a recreation and leisure centre and arts and culture activities in the community that are open to all community members. To keep employees with the company, Patterson says Syncrude started offering retention bonuses in 2006. For employees based in Fort McMurray, the bonus pays 20% of their salary up to $20,000 per year, whichever is less.

The numbers

  • Alberta is second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of proven global crude oil reserves.
  • In 2009 Alberta’s proven oil reserves were about 13% of total global oil reserves.
  • In 2008 the energy sector accounted for 30% of Alberta’s GDP.
  • The average hourly wage for an oil and gas extraction worker in 2006 was $30.36, compared to the average $16.73 for the labour market as a whole.

All about retention
Attracting and retaining quality employees is also a top priority at Suncor, an integrated energy company. The company plans to bring on 1,200 new workers in 2011 alone—that’s about four new hires per day this year. Like Syncrude, Suncor also invests back into Fort McMurray, making it an attractive community for workers. “Suncor believes in being a good neighbour,” says Dany Laferriere, media relations, with Suncor. “That means we protect the safety of our employees, build strong and healthy communities, and work respectfully and constructively with our neighbours.”
Suncor offers employees enjoy a competitive pension plan, as well. “From day one as a regular full-time or part-time employee, our employees become a member of the Suncor Energy Pension Plan. They start off with a personal retirement account (PRA) in the DC track, which is fully funded by Suncor,” he says.

On January 1 of following the year that an employee’s age plus service totals 50 years, the employee has the option to remain in the DC plan or switch to a DB pension plan, which also includes a DC component.

On top of the benefits and pension plan, Suncor employees get a 5% employee discount on fuel, convenience store items and car repairs purchased at Petro-Canada and Certigard retail locations in Canada. Another perk is the Suncor scholarship program, which provides funding for qualifying dependents attending university or college. These awards are granted annually for up to four years, according to Laferriere Students in a four-year university program can receive up to $1,800 per academic year through the scholarship plan, while students in a two-year community college program can get up to $900 per year.

At Cenovus, a Canadian oil company that employs more than 3,000 people, attracting good employees is a priority as the firm gears up to hire an additional 1,240 staff by the end of 2015.

“Ensuring we have the appropriate staff needed to expand our operations is an important part of our business planning,” says Rick Davidson, team lead recruitment at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil and gas company that has operations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. “The reality is that retiring baby boomers and demand for workers in the same talent pool will affect the entire industry, which is why Cenovus has developed a long-term workforce strategy to address these issues.”

“Once we get top people, we want to keep them,” says Davidson.

When Cenovus hires employees, it aims to retain them and recognizes the importance and value its employees put on training and personal development. “We have an extensive employee development program that allows employees to work with supervisors to create and implement annual development plans that build managerial, technical and business competences that support both their career goals and our business objectives,” he says.

“Cenovus offers competitive benefits and perks, such as the first and third Fridays of the month off and vacation based on life experience rather than simply the number of years at the company,” he adds.

What all of these companies have in common is that they are trying to attract the best employees. While they must recruit in large numbers, the quality of the employee remains a priority. This is why many of the perks offered are aimed at keeping employees in the company for the long haul.
“It’s not just a numbers game for us,” says Laferriere. “It’s about hiring quality people with the right attitude and values, one at a time.”

Liz Brown is a freelance writer is Brantford, Ont.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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Adam Hill:

Wow Liz I like what you are saying in regards to the quality of workers not nessesaraly the quantity, I was wondering who the best company is to work for ??

Monday, June 13 at 3:05 pm | Reply

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