Pipeline or not, labour shortage looms

Canada’s oil and gas industry will face critical labour shortages over the next decade, according to a report released by the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.

The report estimates workforce demand in the industry will increase between nine and 20 per cent during the next 10 years. With retirement and turnover taken into account, the industry will need to hire between 125,000 and 150,000 workers by 2022.

However, based on current labour trends, the industry will have a tough time finding those workers, says Cheryl Knight, executive director ?of the council, which deals with ?workforce development and labour market issues in the Canadian petroleum industry.

“The period when we experienced the greatest shortages was in 2007,” she says. “We expect to move into that period of shortages by 2014. And we expect a gap between supply and demand throughout the forecast period to 2022.”

The report, The Decade Ahead: Labour Market Outlook to 2022 for Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry, sees the shortfall primarily as the result of a lack of skills training and talent.

“Skill shortages are critical, and every sector will be affected,” Knight says. “There are not enough workers with the needed experience and qualifications.”

While she could not comment on whether workers’ concerns regarding health and safety may be a factor in the labour shortfall, Knight says the industry does pose risks not present in other occupations.

Oil and gas is in the natural resources sector, she says. Some workers are simply not interested in, or suited to, a job that requires physical work dealing with the elements and equipment, and involves travelling by truck from site to site.

“All of those features raise questions of the risk of incidents that you may not find if you’re working in an office environment,” she says.

Cameron MacGillivray, president and CEO of Enform, says the oil and gas industry regards safety as a top priority and strives always to improve. The Certificate of Recognition (COR) program serves to verify that a company has a working health and safety management system in place. Enform-trained auditors audit COR companies to judge actual performance.

“Not only must there be a program on paper, it must be working in practice,” he says. “That program alone, we think, contributes to a 40 to 60 per cent reduction in injuries and fatalities — for COR companies versus companies not recognized with certificates.”

He adds recent statistics indicate safety is improving across the industry. From 2005 to 2010, the industry’s injury and lost-time incident rate declined across the western provinces by 20 to 60 per cent. Oil and gas companies are increasingly focusing on new approaches, like process safety, he says.

Knight says, workers’ environmental values may also help explain the workforce shortfall. The industry is cyclical — oil and gas prices can cause activity levels to rise and fall quickly — and much of it is seasonal.

“It’s field-based, outdoor work, and you have to deal with weather conditions, which may put some people off. Other people adapt their lifestyles around it,” she says.