The jobs are plentiful. They pay very well, $29 per hour entry-level and up. No college degree is required, not even always a high school diploma. Training is provided, beyond prerequisite basic drilling and first aid classes.
Yet Canada expects limited growth in drilling next year, due to a severe shortage of rig workers.
"The greatest limiting factor when examining overall utilization rates will be the shortage of skilled rig workers," said the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) in a November statement. "Industry suffered a great loss of skills and knowledge during the downturn of 2009 and it has struggled to attract these experienced workers back," CAODC continued. "While the numbers of new workers joining industry is encouraging, it will take time to develop their skills. In addition to outside labor competition, the drilling rigs lose many skilled people to positions within industry – particularly specialized positions like directional drilling."
The association's recent forecast projects only a 1 percent increase in drilling in 2012, due in large part to the worker shortage.
However, rig training is in anything but short supply in Canada.
The country's industry-sponsored Enform provides dozens of safety courses for rig workers, along with the required basic drilling course for newcomers.
"They have a fully functioning drilling rig here in Alberta and pretty much everyone that comes out is guaranteed a job," said rig worker Alan McDonald. "The industry really promoted the school or they would be in a worse shortage without it."
In addition, CAODC sponsors RigTech, a website full of training and background information for current and hopeful rig workers, and ServiceRigDrive, a site bringing attention to the need for service rig workers as a distinct career path.
Canada is the first country in the world to introduce formalized apprenticeship training for more experienced oil and gas drilling rig crews.
The CAODC-sponsored Rig Technician trade program is a combination of documented on-the-job training and classroom technical training. The three-year program covers the three senior positions on the rig crew – motorhand, derrickhand and driller – and is available in Canada's Alberta, BC, Saskatcheawn and the Northwest Territories.
For each level of training, the apprentice logs 1,500 hours of on-the-job training and completes a four week technical training course.
"Recognizing the rig hand as a tradesperson identifies what every rig hand knows: operating a drilling rig is a highly skilled job," said CAODC President Don Herring. "With trade designation, they will receive standardized, high quality training and the recognition they deserve."
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