Need work? Roustabouts in Demand

Even though employment grew in December 2011 and the jobless rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent -- its lowest since February 2009 -- gaining employment is tough in all sectors worldwide, especially for those with no college degree. Yet, drilling contractors are scrambling to fill jobs as Baby Boomers retire.

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"The oil field had attitude if things got tough with boomers and the industry started seeing labor shortages, it could go to other areas of the world to pick up roughnecks," Reg MacDonald, CEO and President of Maritime Drilling Schools said, "but it is a world-wide problem. We need more people trained and working in the field or the industry is going to be limited as far as drilling because there's not going to be people to do it."

According to the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, 100,000 new workers will be needed over the next decade. Trades people will be in high demand over the next 10 years, the release stated, but oil and gas drilling and services field workers are at the top of the list and are needed immediately.

As demand for oil and gas rises, demand for more oil field workers rises too. Hard workers, regardless of background, are needed to fill these positions, especially offshore, but they need proper training. Entrepreneurs have capitalized on this void and have opened roughneck training schools. Instead of four years at a university, short training courses can prepare inexperienced laborers for a good-paying entry level drilling rig job.

One such school is the Maritime Drilling Schools based in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, which provides a 20-day training course. The entry-level training course provides individuals with skills and safety training needed to function safely and efficiently in the field.
Maritime Drilling's 20-day training course breaks down each part of the drilling process and explains what it does and why it is necessary. The school has a drilling rig on site where students get hands-on training in rig operations as well as safety.

As most roughneck jobs today are found on offshore drilling rigs and platforms, training schools also teach offshore skills as well as land. Roughnecks can expect to align, tighten, unscrew and add pipe, along with position casing, tubing and pump rods. Other duties include cleaning, maintaining and repairing drilling equipment.

Maritime Drilling Schools also teaches the following:

  • Rotary Drilling
  • Drilling Contracts
  • Oil and gas reservoirs
  • Moving equipment to the drill site
  • Rigging up
  • Rig components
  • Normal drilling operations
  • Formation evaluation and completing the well
  • Coring operations
  • Reverse circulation
  • Extraction and cleaning of core samples
  • Cataloguing and crating core samples for geologist
  • Working safely around track mounted drilling machines
  • HAZMAT Materials
  • OSHA Regulations
Need work? Roustabouts in Demand

When students complete the 4-week program, they typically have no trouble finding work.

"Right now, as fast as guys are being trained, they are going right to work," MacDonald said. "We have drilling contractors who come to us regularly looking for hands. As an institution, we don't guarantee work to students, but we do assist them."

Recently trained students are finding work as roustabouts all over the globe, but specifically in Alberta, British Columbia, North Dakota (Bakken), Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and offshore worldwide.

Drillers start off as roustabouts until they gain enough hands-on experience to move up to a roughneck or floorhand position, then to driller and rig supervisor. Of course, pay increases as well.

"While it certainly assists an individual to have a solid educational background coming into our program, all drillers start at the bottom. A driller is not going to walk in off the street. Drillers have to build their knowledge and experience and know how things operate and what's going on around the rig."

According to MacDonald, his students start as roustabouts with a salary between $80,000 to $100,000 in Canada, and $75,000 to $95,000 in the US, depending on where and for who they are working. Some even get a living allowance.

The pay is very generous; however the labor is physically demanding, the work schedule is taxing and the work environment is potentially dangerous to those not properly trained.

Although schedules vary from one company to another, as well as one rig to the next, a common shift is 12 hours on and 12 hours off for two or three weeks at a time and then off the rig for two weeks.

Need work? Roustabouts in Demand

This is a tough schedule for individuals with families at home, but it pays well. MacDonald noted that most of his students have been male; however, with the labor shortage, unemployment rate and advancements in drilling rig technology, he is surprised that more women aren't taking his training course.

"It is certainly a male dominated field, but the industry has changed," MacDonald said. "A lot of drilling equipment -- land and offshore -- is changing to auto robotics. We have cyber drillers, pipe racking systems, pipe handling systems and auto roughnecks, which allows opportunities for women to get into industry. Drilling is not as labor intensive as it used to be and women can make good money at it."

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