Special Report: The Energy Sector

OIL: In the Oil Sands and Elsewhere, Carpenters and Millwrights are Busy

According to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a mammoth $218 billion investment in oil sands development is expected over the next 25 years. Besides having the potential to triple the oil sands’ daily output from the current 1.8 million barrels, continued development of the Alberta energy sector will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada and in the United States, where the bulk of the petroleum ends up.

With safe, motivated, and trained members already working on oil sands projects, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters stands ready to take advantage of the opportunities in the near term and on the horizon. Work opportunities for UBC contractors are promising in Alberta’s oil sands, where an estimated 170 billion barrels of oil wait to transform North America’s energy landscape.

“We have and are continually upgrading our training centers across the province to ensure we have capacity and up-to-date equipment and programs in place to meet the demands of the marketplace,” said Martyn Piper, executive secretary-treasurer of the UBC’s Alberta Regional Council. “Our dispatch is fully automated, and we are embarking upon upgrades to that system to ensure quick response time to employer demands.”

Currently, between 3,000 and 4,000 UBC members are working on oil sands projects, depending on the season and contractors’ schedules. That includes carpenters, who erect scaffolding on new projects and those undergoing maintenance, and millwrights, who install and tend to the complex machinery.

“We focus every day on making sure our signatory contractors have the trained hands they need to build new plants and ensuring existing ones are well maintained,” said UBC Canadian District Vice President Jim Smith. “Our members’ efforts are vital in providing a steady supply of petroleum and a return on the billions of dollars in capital investment being made in the province.”

Maintenance Will Sustain Demand for Skilled Workers

The need for those trained UBC professionals is expected to grow to as many 9,000 over the next several years, and not just for new construction. Every plant that has come online since commercial oil sands production began 44 years ago requires extensive work to maintain and upgrade.

“I know for a fact that we have a very busy time coming in the next 10 years in the oil sands,” said Shabbir Hakim, administrator for the Alberta Council of Turnaround Industry Maintenance Stakeholders. This organization ensures there are enough skilled, qualified workers to staff turnarounds—periods of complex maintenance when facilities shut down for several weeks once or twice a year.

“The more plants you build, the more you have to maintain,” Hakim said. “I think you’re going to see we don’t have the people resources the construction maintenance industry will require in the coming years.”

Along with Alberta’s jobs, contractors will be bidding work over the next few years on large-scale projects across Canada, including the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador, oil and industrial development in Atlantic Canada, and government-funded infrastructure work across the nation.

The oil sands region is also facing an aging workforce, which could see 25 percent of skilled-trade professionals retire in the next few years. Therefore, well-trained, productive workers will be more in demand than at any time in recent years.

“We’ve upgraded our training across Canada to provide current and future members the skills they will need to take advantage of these unprecedented opportunities,” said UBC District Vice President Smith. “Our members appreciate that and will be well-prepared to do the job.”

Refineries call for carpenters and millwrights from the ground up.


Read more on how UBC members are meeting construction needs in other energy markets.