It's a lifestyle choice. Job seekers looking for travel and adventure can find it through companies like Cementation Canada Inc., a mine contracting and engineering firm that builds underground mines for the Diavik Diamond Mine, owned by Rio Tinto and Harry Winston Diamond Corporation, Goldcorp Inc. and HudBay Minerals, among many others. Cementation, based in North Bay, Ont., is one of Canada's top 100 employers for the third year running. It offers career opportunities in some of Canada's outermost regions and across North and South America.
"Some spots are isolated and some not," says Roy Slack, Cementation's director and president. "We do work near Sussex in New Brunswick and in Kamloops, which are beautiful places. But we also have projects in remote places, like Diavik in Lac de Gras in the Northwest Territories by the Nunavut border, and at Hope Bay, right on the Arctic Circle. Those are fly-in jobs."
Cementation recruits from inside and outside the company for those positions based on the type of work and people's skill and experience. The company employs engineers in the mining, mechanical, electrical, civil, structural and geotechnical disciplines as well as operations and technical experts. Both Diavik and Hope Bay are projects where Cementation has a first nations partner, and the company has trained a number of people who had no experience in mining through its new miner training program. Remote assignments are always on a voluntary basis.
"No one gets sent there," Mr. Slack says. "The different projects require different skill sets. If you're interested in a project and we think you're a fit, then you go. We don't really evaluate people based on their interest in that lifestyle. We're much more interested in their attitude regarding work and safety."
There isn't any isolation bonus, but workers don't pay for anything once they're onsite. The company takes care of all flights, rooms and meals.
"These are all well paying jobs," Mr. Slack says. "People make good money, and when they come home, they can enjoy their time off. The pay depends on the project and type of work."
Families don't come along on projects like Diavik or Hope Bay, known as camp or bunkhouse-type projects. But things have changed a lot since "the old days," when Mr. Slack would go on jobs for three months at a time before coming home for a break.
"Now, in remote locations, usually it's a combination of what we and our clients do for accommodations," Mr. Slack says. "In Diavik, the bunkhouse is more like a hotel with Internet, a full gym and the food's very good. There's no real hardship there other than being away from home.
"This remote work we do on projects in Canada has actually evolved into something that has a very acceptable lifestyle," he adds. "It's much easier for families now. You're away for two weeks, then you're home for two weeks. Some are three weeks in, three weeks out. That's not a difficult schedule since no one is away from home for very long. When you're home, you have all that time to do things with your family. It works for some people and not for others. The thing with a remote job is, someone can go up there, and if that's not working for them, they can just let us know and we'll try to find them a spot closer to home. That happens sometimes."
Andrew Reid, founder of Big Fish Interactive Inc., a Toronto human resources consulting and coaching firm, sees communications as the biggest challenge for families when there are geographical distances and time spent apart. Basically, he believes what matters in a relationship is that the important stuff gets talked about.
"People are wired to connect to others," Mr. Reid says. "The spouse returning home needs to understand the value of in-depth conversations. Conversations may stay light and simple because 'we're here for a short time, not a long time'. But no one benefits by being quiet about 'I'm feeling lonely when you're gone.'"
As for showing leadership when you're far away from head office, Mr. Reid suggests that taking ownership of one's work area supports the natural need for purpose and personal value, as well as making worksites safer because you have everyone looking for details that may be out of place. Another idea is to document improvements and opportunities for innovation that positively affect the bottom line.
"Have head office recognize positive contributions for both individuals and their crews," Mr. Reid says. "If the work is routine, create opportunities for education or role sharing, or cross-department, cross-shift knowledge sharing. Highly engaged brains are happy brains."