Sept/Oct 2012

The Athabasca Express: Human Resources

Creative Thinking

By Kim Lear

If all of the oil sands projects that are currently on the books go ahead, the region will “need a heck of a lot of people […] a lot of people,” says Dianne Clark, chief administrative officer of both the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and the Fort McMurray Construction Association.

But where are the people going to come from? And will they come soon enough for goods and service companies to avoid creating bottlenecks in the supply chain for the oils sands? Sharing resources, creating strategic partnerships and thinking outside the box seem to be common themes in everyone’s plans for stable growth.

Finning – currently the largest non-oil sands employer in the region, employing roughly 1,000 people – is slated to open a second facility in the Fort McKay Industrial Park this fall. This $112 million investment will allow Finning to grow its operations and add another 500 employees by 2015.

“That doesn’t come without challenges,” says Larry Gouthro, Finning’s general manager of sales, oil sands. “We’re competing for labour with our customers and our competitors. Everybody is a competitor for the people.”

Looking to grow a loyal and local labour force, Finning has recently launched the FinnTech Apprenticeship program, in partnership with Keyano College and Caterpillar. The program’s goal is to graduate 48 heavy duty mechanics annually, who are trained specifically for oils sands-related work.

Finning is also building its capacity with a fly-in/fly-out labour force. Although attrition is relatively high – almost double that of a local labour force – the company is attracting skilled tradespeople from across the country with continuous shifts (seven on/seven off, or 14 on/14 off). In addition to highly competitive rates of pay, workers are enticed with healthy housing allowances and camp subsidies that can cost the company up to $150 per employee per day.

Currently, Finning does not cover the costs of workers’ flights, however Suncor and many other oils sands operators do. As a result, Finning and other goods and service providers are being forced to asses the return on investment of travel subsidy strategies to attract and retain high-demand tradespeople.

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