Canadian Oil Sands Creates Emerging Jobs Market

A Q&A with Brian Coffman, General Manager, Canada for Maxwell Drummond International exploring the growing opportunities linked to Canada's oil sands industry

Q: What is the job outlook for Canada's oil sands? 

A: The job outlook for Canada's oil sands is definitely healthy. From what we’re seeing within the context of Maxwell Drummond, there is little doubt that activity has returned to this particular sector over the past 12 months, helped in large part by higher and more stable oil prices. Another strong indicator is ongoing foreign investment, particularly from the Far East, further demonstrating that opportunities in the oil sands are drawing interest globally. As projects are being ramped up, job opportunities are also becoming more apparent, and amongst Maxwell Drummond's client base, we are seeing very strong demand for talent that is likely to last for some time.

Q: What kinds of positions are open in the Canadian oil sands? 

A: The range of opportunities in the oil sands is quite vast, from technical to support to leadership functions. Projects are very complex and encompass needs across multiple points in the value chain, and with strong resource requirements at every phase of the process, the number of different opportunities is significant.

Q: What skills are best utilized/transferred to the oil sands? 

A: The technical complexities and challenges of oil sands projects dictate "must-have" skills that are often sourced from within the industry. However, this is not always the case with certain skill sets and capabilities transferrable from other sectors within the industry or from altogether different industries. For example, Project Management and Leadership are two areas within which Canadian-based oil sands producers have turned to other industries and/or geographies to source much needed talent. As a result, this area currently sees sizable groups of individuals from common geographies outside of Canada, many of whom had zero prior oil sands experience. Skills transfer and knowledge sharing are possible and more and more companies are likely to look to these as a means of getting work accomplished.

Q: What are the trends in leadership and executive level experience in the developing oil sands arena? 

A: At executive levels, knowledge sharing and collaboration are seeing marked increases. The oil sands present unique and varied challenges not seen by other sectors within oil & gas, and this is prompting more leaders to share ideas and learnings not just on operational aspects, but also on the talent side of the equation. Maxwell Drummond is now looking at ways to broker this knowledge sharing through the introduction of an Executive Exchange program this year.

Q: Will positions be long term? 

A: There are often different skills required for development vs. operational phases, but many would suggest that the existing opportunities are indeed long term. Consider that via the oil sands, Canada has proven reserves second only to Saudi Arabia, and that projects of this magnitude have long schedules and competing projects are in various stages of completion. Oil sands production is anticipated for years to come, with any projected peaks being several years away. Many are expecting oil sands opportunities to be robust for years to come.

Q: How will oil sands fit into the energy outlook of tomorrow? 

A: Oil sands have every potential to be a major contributor to the future energy mix. The opportunities are there now, and if bullish projections on future oil price are accurate, these opportunities will continue to exist. Perhaps the greater challenge will be around securing and retaining needed talent and managing the ongoing perception of oil sands in the marketplace. The talent side will require creative approaches as there is unlikely to be enough supply generated through traditional recruiting methods. This will require, in part, a fresh look at where talent is sourced, how that talent is developed and how it is rewarded. The perception challenge will require ongoing efforts to engage the public on environmental and social responsibility initiatives currently underway within the oil sands industry.

Brian Coffman joined Maxwell Drummond in Houston as a Senior Consultant before transferring to Calgary to manage the company’s Alberta operations in 2008. He has been involved with a range of search projects at the executive, mid-management and technical levels in North America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Prior to joining Maxwell Drummond, Coffman worked in Human Resources for BHP Billiton. He has broad experience in international executive recruitment, human resource management, performance management and appraisal, training, compensation, and compliance. Coffman has over 12 years of Executive Search/Human Resources experience.

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