Mining and energy firms looking to take advantage of the abundance of new opportunities in Canada’s oil sands are being given a stern warning – expect a tough time finding engineers.
Mike Winterfield, president of the professionals division for Randstad Canada, a recruitment firm, warns of an extreme shortage of engineers, with the most difficult positions to fill including civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering in areas such as pipe design, instrumentation and project management.
“Pretty much every category now is in yellow working toward red (extreme shortage) because the expansion in Alberta is just massive,” Winterfield is quoted as saying in the Calgary Herald.
According to the report, Randstad says the most challenging task is finding mid-career engineers with 10 to 20 years of experience. For this reason, it is advising its clients to think creatively and spread the leadership around. One way of doing this, Randstad says, is through teams of engineers with varying levels of experience.
“There is a gap between the seasoned professional and new graduates, and companies need to provide a transition,” Winterfield says. “If there are no jobs available for new graduates we have lost our supply for the future, and we will never get the numbers of seasoned staff companies want.”
Interestingly, the report says money is often less significant than other factors when experienced engineers switch jobs.
“It is rarely money, the most recent poll found a pleasant work environment (is a higher priority among engineers,)” Winterfield says. “That includes an innovative company that offers both challenges and job security, with a positive image where people are proud to work”.
Winterfield is bullish about prospects for the oil sands and its impact on employment. As recently as 2006, he says, production from the Alberta oil sands produced roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. Now, he says, that number has grown by half again and he expects by 2030, the sands could account for 5 million barrels per day.
But he says that even as the shortage of engineers intensifies, projects will not stall for lack of talent, and that firms will recruit from abroad or cross-train and retrofit them from other industries or other streams of engineering.
“It all depends on how wide you cast your net,” Winterfield says. “But in the end, firms can always open the chequebook, and we will see them paying more and headhunting more (as they chase a scarce resource). But that can be a dangerous game”.