A TUG of war for the hearts, minds and skills of northwesterners is taking shape as demand grows for people to work on large-scale industrial projects in Western Canada.
Already, one Alberta-based energy company has scouted the area in hopes of attracting northwesterners.
Devon Canada, which is building up a workforce of 1,200 people at its heavy oil extraction project at Jackfish Lake, northeast of Edmonton, took part in a Province of B.C.-sponsored job fair at the Sportsplex here Nov. 16.
Its pitch to potential employees is simple – you will work in Alberta but you can continue to live in B.C. thanks to its use of chartered aircraft to fly people back and forth.
Chartered aircraft already fly from Vancouver and Kelowna in B.C. to Jackfish Lake and the company will subsidize the travel of employees to get to those departure points, explains Jackson White who carries the title of Devon’s talent acquisition manager.
Promotional material prepared by Devon highlight the private accommodation, food service and recreational and fitness amenities offered by the company at its Jackfish Lake complex.
To date, about 30 Devon employees live in B.C. and commute to work on a seven day in/seven day out rotation.
That’s just 1.5 per cent of the company’s workforce but as that figure grows in B.C., the company could very well add more departure points, White continued.
And while it may seem odd at first that an Alberta company was taking part in a B.C. government jobs fair, the logic is simple, says White.
“They still live in B.C. and they pay taxes in B.C., but they work in Alberta,” he said.
White said Devon seized on the idea of looking beyond Alberta’s borders to find employees when it realized it was locked in a fruitless competition for workers within that province.
Companies were poaching from each other as the number of overall workers wasn’t growing and the result was continual turnover, he said.
“We just had a limited supply of labour,” White said, adding that attempts to bring employees and their families from other parts of the country weren’t always successful.
Devon then decided to look in B.C. and Saskatchewan, using federal employment data to pinpoint areas where people live who have the skills the company needs. That search lead Devon to participate in five B.C. government job fairs, including the one here in Terrace.
“As it turned out, we found there were people in B.C. with the skills we need,” said White.
In other parts of B.C., Devon’s had success in recruiting people who once used to work in a B.C. mainstay – the pulp and paper industry.
“We saw a lot of interesting people with some great backgrounds,” he added of the people encountered at the jobs fair in Terrace. White said it’s important for Devon to be as innovative as possible in find and keeping employees by working to ensure they and their families can remain, if they wish, living in a familiar environment.
“We really live in a global world,” he said of the ease of travel. “There are so many employment opportunities now.”
Devon is also considering expanding existing training programs to ensure it has ready access to skilled and available labour.
A list of openings at Alberta Devon operations includes steam plant operations, foreman, water specialists and various mechanical trades.