May 2008

Good neighbours

Syncrude Canada’s Aboriginal Relations Program

By A. Gordon

Syncrude firefighter/EMT-A, Andrew Golosky | Image courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.


Syncrude Canada Ltd. is very proud of its distinction as one of the country’s largest industrial employers of aboriginal people. “Ever since we commenced our operations, we have recognized the great importance of fostering a positive relationship with our aboriginal neighbours,” said the company’s public affairs advisor, Alain Moore. “It’s really to our mutual benefit. Not only can we help them get the skill set they need to take part in a rewarding career in oil sands, but we also get access to a very important and promising workforce to help us meet our tremendous need for skilled labour.”

Additionally, Moore added that the attrition rate among aboriginal employees is lower than among those of non-aboriginal descent. “This region is their home,” explained Moore. “This is where their roots are and they know what it’s like to live five hours north of Edmonton.”

Syncrude’s Aboriginal Development Program focuses on six key commitment areas: corporate leadership, employment, business development, education and training, community development and the environment. The objective, said Moore, is to create greater collective opportunities. Each year, the company publishes its Aboriginal Review, an overview of its relations with the aboriginal people and communities. According to 2006 data (the latest aboriginal Review will be released in April) Syncrude employed 420 Aboriginal people, representing approximately nine per cent of their total employee population. Many more, they say, are employed by their contractors.

Among its various program initiatives, Syncrude implemented a rotational employee program that provides travel assistance for employees who live in distant, predominantly aboriginal communities. One such area is Fort Chipewyan, a community of about 1,200 located 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The only consistent mode of travel into and out of the area is by air, although it can also sometimes be accessed via boat or winter road. Syncrude provides flights for participants to and from Fort Chipewyan as well as accommodations while they are at the facility. “We also fly them back when they have their days off,” added Moore. “It is very important to them, and to us, that they are able to maintain ties to their community where they can remain strong role models.” This has also been expanded to other areas where ground transportation has been used, also serving to foster exceptional relations within these communities.

One of Syncrude’s educational initiatives is aimed at informing aboriginal youth about careers in the oil sands industry. “We’ve put together a DVD called “Your Future Counts,” explained Moore. “It features a variety of our employees of aboriginal descent who have chosen various career paths within our organization. There’s a process operator, instrumentation technician, electrician, heavy equipment operator, engineer, and so on. They talk about their jobs, why they like them and how they got there. It gives young people a better understanding of the different opportunities and how they can reach their goals.”

Moore said that while most youth understand what the job of a welder or an electrician might entail, such is often not the case with critical trades such as instrument technician, machinist and fabricator.

“The underlying message in the DVD, as well as in other outreach initiatives, is the importance of education,” emphasized Moore. “High school is a fantastic foundation, but in order to take advantage of the opportunities available in the oil sands, you often need to go beyond that.”

Moore recognizes that Syncrude’s initiatives are certainly mutually beneficial. Each of the six elements of the company’s Aboriginal Relations Program relies upon collaboration for a greater collective opportunity. But then after all, isn’t that what being a good neighbour is all about?

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