Job: Oil sands worker
Salary: It's the money that makes this work so attractive. Salaries range from about $90,000 to $120,000 a year, not including overtime, says Roland LeFort, president of Fort McMurray, Alta.-based Unifor Local 707A.
Education: A Grade 12 education is typically required, given that workers need strong reading skills to follow work procedures, including those related to health and safety. Many workers also take college courses to learn how to drive industrial vehicles and operate heavy machinery. There are also several apprenticeship programs offered, particularly for trades such as plumbing.
The role: There are various careers in the oil sands industry, ranging from heavy equipment operators and truck drivers to engineers and electricians. The work is intense and the hours are long, with long breaks in between. For example, some jobs require working 12-hour days for two weeks straight, followed by a two-week break.
By the numbers: Alberta's oil sands industry employed 20,000 workers in 2011. That number is projected to grow to more than 35,000 by 2021, according to the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, which works to address labour market issues in the industry. This includes workers directly employed by oil sands producers whose daily job responsibilities are devoted to oil sands activities. When other indirect jobs are taken into account, such as construction and manufacturing, retail and hospitality, that number is expected to rise to more than half a million jobs within a decade, the council says.
Job prospects: There is a growing demand for direct and indirect jobs in this industry as production is expected to increase and baby boomers continue to retire.
Challenges: The work is often in remote areas, which means employees are away from home for days or weeks at a time. The hours can be long and the work can be challenging, both physically and mentally. Workers also need to be alert to prevent accidents, and need to make sure they're looking after each other to maintain a safe workplace, Mr. LeFort says.
Why they do it: The money is good. Also, the work camps are becoming increasingly comfortable with gourmet meals, state-of-the-art entertainment and recreation facilities such as tennis and basketball courts.
Misconceptions: Mr. LeFort says he doesn't believe there are any misconceptions about oil sands workers. The work, why people do it, and the pros and cons are well known, he says.
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