Desperately seeking workers

By Geoff Lee

March 30, 2017 12:00 AM

HELP WANTED Several job postings for the patch have been popping up around town on behalf of employers, many who say they're having a rough time finding qualified workers. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

The jobs are out there, where are the workers?

The irony of the current downturn in the oil and gas sector is that some service companies are finding it tough to hire experienced workers.
That’s the situation with Lloydminster service companies such as R’ohan Rig Services Ltd. and Raider Well Servicing Ltd. that need to staff up for anticipated work.
“We’re looking for all positions right from floorhands to drillers for service rigs,” said Rohan president Graham Holmedal.
R’ohan operates service rigs and coil tubing units for clients throughout Western Canada.
Holmedal said they’re crewed up for the work they have right now, but need more skilled workers moving forward when late spring and summer work picks up.
“We don’t have the work for them yet, but we’re just trying to get ramped up so we can go for work,” he said, in early March.
“It’s sort of a Catch 22 right?”
Holmedal said it’s tough to find anybody right now, despite thousands of layoffs in the industry and the oil price decline since mid-2014.
“I think the reason for that is some guys are still on unemployment (EI), but a lot of the guys who got laid off have left town.”
Many experienced middle managers have been laid off and millennials may be put off entering the industry.
Finding the right candidate in terms of technical and business culture is top of mind for Marty Stephen, owner of Raider Well Services.
Raider’s workload for completions, workovers and abandonments has picked up about 20 per cent since Christmas.He’s looking for experienced floorhands, drillers, derrickmen and tool pushes.
“There’s the odd guy who comes around, but it’s the same old thing, nobody with experience,” said Stephen.
“Right now, we need top players to get the equipment out, and then with our HR, we can slowly train the guys and move our existing guys around.”
Stephen said a lot of workers went and got “jobs at the grocery mart” stocking shelves for $10 an hour less, but noted at least they work everyday.
“There’s some good paying jobs out there that are close to what we’re paid up to,” he said.
Rig rates and wages and benefits have dropped, along with the price of oil, making it that much harder to attract the top guys.
“That’s a contributing factor, 15 per cent lower wages,” agreed Holmedal.
“There were all sort of things that were taken away from them, from travel time to wages to less hours.”
He noted retaining workers is not an issue because there are few employment alternatives.
“If somebody came along and said they’re going to start paying $10 an hour more than what they’re getting, and if a guy doesn’t match (the wage), I guess you’d have to,” said Holmedal.
“At the same token, with the rates we’re getting on our equipment, nobody will be able to start raising rates or wages until we can start getting some rates back on the equipment.”
Holmedal said if the price of oil gets closer to $60 a barrel and stays there for awhile, the industry will see a lot more optimism.
Petroplan, a U.K.-based global oil and gas industry recruiter with an office in Calgary, reports global oil prices are around the level where demand for talent is set to pick up again.
“After a very challenging couple of years, our review reflects a cautious optimism for the future among energy employers,” said Rory Ferguson, CEO of Petroplan, in a March release.
The findings come from Petroplan’s survey of 35 organizations on prospects for recovery and how this would affect hiring in the near term.
“Contract staff are likely to be in the vanguard of any recovery, with over two-thirds of respondents expecting greater use of contractors, bringing with them the flexibility and cost control which are critical in the current business environment,” said Ferguson.
Stephen said he needs to see an increase in rig rates in order to maintain his equipment, crews and safety.

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