Attracting the right people to the right locations is difficult for the upstream petroleum industry, which will need to find personnel for more than 7,000 new Canadian jobs over the next decade. To ensure the industry has the workers it needs, when and where it needs them, the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada (Petroleum HR Council) is addressing the industry’s human resources issues with a national human resources strategy.

Established in 2001, the Petroleum HR Council is a national, collaborative forum that addresses human resources issues within the upstream petroleum industry. Its strategy consists of five multi-year initiatives to address key human resources issues identified in The Strategic Human Resources Study of the Upstream Petroleum Industry: The Decade Ahead (see sidebar):

  1. A strategy that aligns training programs with industry needs.
  2. An outreach strategy that increases understanding of the industry and the opportunities it offers to traditional and non-traditional pools of labor.
  3. A description of job requirements for entry-level positions and related pre-employment assessment tools.
  4. Occupational standards for ’in-demand’ positions.
  5. Resources that make it easier to attract employees to challenging locations, optimize their skills for local conditions and retain them in such places.

For each initiative, projects are being developed and funding resources identified. Project summaries follow.

Projects linked to the national HR strategy

1. A strategy that aligns training programs with industry needs

The Decade Ahead identified occupational supply and demands, shifting skill requirements and labor market information gaps as key issues for the industry. A close examination of the Canadian education, training and development framework that provides skilled workers to the upstream oil and gas industry determined that the responsiveness of educational institutions varies significantly. Private training facilities report that they can respond very quickly to industry requests for training programs, while accredited programs, colleges and institutions report that a one-year planning cycle is required to implement major changes. Universities report a planning cycle of more than one year is necessary. The ever challenging requirement for institutions to harmonize with regulation, while focusing on the specific skill shortages, must be balanced against the requirements of individuals’ and employers’ needs to rationalize training costs and quality control in their learning environments. The objectives of this project are to:

  • Determine the training and education programs and institutions that are key to the delivery and/or development of employees for the industry.
  • Determine the industry activities that support the hiring of new grads.
  • Determine the industry demand requirements and gain a solid understanding of industry’s career paths.
  • Identify existing or new information-sharing mechanisms to communicate industry human resources requirements with post-secondary and training institutions.
  • Design an action plan to identify target audiences and share the training and education program information with them.

2. An outreach strategy that increases understanding of the industry and the opportunities it offers to traditional and non-traditional pools of labor.

The Decade Ahead identified the attraction of new employees as critical to ensuring that expected labor demands are met. However, it also uncovered perceptions of the industry that are negatively impacting its attractiveness to potential employees. In addition, the study identified barriers to entry into the industry for women, Aboriginal Peoples and immigrants.

The industry needs to reach out to its traditional and non-traditional sources of new employees by dispelling myths, sharing the realities and many positive aspects of working in the industry and breaking down barriers that currently prevent the non-traditional workforce from joining the industry. The strategy will

  • Document existing upstream industry outreach activities directed at the traditional and non-traditional workforce.
  • Identify the mechanisms and/or tools for communicating about careers with the traditional and non-traditional workforce with the most impact.
  • Develop an outreach strategy that raises the profile of the oil and gas industry’s various career opportunities among the traditional and non-traditional workforce.
  • In the long-term, after the outreach activities have been implemented:
    • Increase the understanding of the industry and its career opportunities with the traditional and non-traditional workforce.
    • Increase the supply of new entrants to the upstream petroleum workforce.
    • An effective process for the upstream petroleum industry to positively promote careers to the non-traditional workforce.

3. A description of job requirements for entry-level positions and related pre-employment assessment tools.

The composition and competency requirements of jobs within the upstream petroleum industry have and will continue to evolve in response to changing technology as well as the business and regulatory environment. While some sectors in the industry may be able to draw from the “unskilled labor pool” for entry-level positions, those positions still require a variety of essential employability skills such as mechanical aptitude and mandatory safety training.

These shifting skill requirements have redefined entry-level job requirements, resulting in a lack of understanding of the skills and competencies required to enter the industry. Traditional labor pools for the service, drilling and seismic sectors (i.e. farmers) have declined and industry is being forced to draw from new pools of labor, including workers downsized from other industries, Aboriginal Peoples, women and immigrants. Informing potential workers about the opportunities the industry offers and the realities of working in the industry is seen by industry as being key to addressing high turnover rates.

As part of the work completed for the The Decade Ahead, 168 core industry occupations and skill descriptions were identified. This information along with the work currently being completed by the Petroleum Competency Program (development of industry occupational standards within the oilfield service sector) will be sources from which this project can build. The project intends to:

  • Identify key job families for each sector of the upstream petroleum industry.
  • Establish baseline or entry-level skills and technical and essential skill requirements for selected occupations not requiring pre-requisite formal education.
  • Develop job family profiles showing usual career paths from entry-level positions to supervisory levels for selected occupations. • Develop or identify pre-employment screening mechanisms to evaluate pre-requisite skills and aptitudes.
  • Define and document an effective process for determining job requirements and pre-employment tools that can be replicated for other job families.

4. Occupational standards for ’in-demand’positions.

The Petroleum Competency Program (PCP), a program that develops occupational competency standards and provides an assessment process to evaluate the competency of people in specific occupations, has been transferred to the Petroleum Council from the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC).

The ultimate goal for the PCP is to develop occupational standards for additional targeted positions within the upstream petroleum industry by the following means:

  • Update competency standards for select well service sector occupations.
  • Hold industry stakeholder meetings to obtain service sector input on the future operation of and strategy for the PCP.
  • Prepare a competency standards management plan, including systems and procedures.
  • Establish a business plan for the PCP.
  • Establish a national steering committee to evaluate the focus of any expansions to the program.

5. Resources that make it easier to attract employees to challenging locations, optimize their skills for local conditions and retain them in such places.

Generally, the industry’s growth areas – frontier and new production areas – are moving farther and farther away from major population centres. The Decade Ahead, as well as the stakeholder consultation executed to share its findings, confirmed that one of the most pressing industry needs is the development of practices that help with the attraction and retention of key talent to remote and hard-to-recruit locations.

There are definite challenges associated with remote and hard-to-recruit locations. Traditionally, the industry has taken a fairly homogeneous approach to human resources policies and practices with a focus on compensation programs to attract and retain employees. The use of compensation becomes less sustainable as the primary attraction and retention tool given the industry’s focus on enhancing production while optimizing cost. In addition, a nation-wide shortage of some skilled occupations is predicted, requiring the upstream petroleum industry to compete for talent with industries that do not require remote relocation. The industry will also need to capitalize on the use of local labor pools to meet skill demands, which will require tapping into groups such as Aboriginal Peoples and women who have not traditionally accessed the industry for employment. Another challenge is the lack of internal human resources expertise in small businesses operating in the industry. Remote and diverse areas of the country require more creative human resources approaches.

This project’s objectives are to:

  • Increase the availability of resources to assist upstream petroleum companies in attracting, developing and sustaining a workforce and meeting the demands for skilled labor.
  • Develop a framework or model to assist in assessing the challenges and risks of attraction and retention.
  • Develop resources for industry to address these challenges and risks, including resources to assist with the development of local labor pools as a strategy to address labor demands.
  • Create a tool to transfer to the industry’s stakeholders the best practices related to attraction and retention strategies for hard-to-recruit locations and the development of local labor pools.
  • Increase understanding of barriers to the attraction, retention and development of non-traditional labor pools and identify practices to address the barriers.
  • Assess tools and resources to help develop respectful work environments to enhance attraction and retention of nontraditional workforces.

The national strategy has the support of various stakeholders, including industry, government, employees, educational institutions, special interest groups and professional associations, who provided feedback on 21 project concepts presented at regional meetings with stakeholders held across the country in October and November, 2003.

The Petroleum HR Council will work collaboratively with stakeholders through steering committees and advisory groups to implement the projects and to achieve our vision: “the workers industry needs, when and where it needs them.”

To learn more about the Petroleum HR Council or download a copy of The Decade Ahead, visit

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About the Author(s)

Cheryl Knight is the Executive Director and CEO of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada. She has over 20 years of experience in various human resources disciplines in a range of business settings across Canada. Her industry experience includes petroleum, financial, transportation and post secondary education. Cheryl holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters of Education degree in Counseling.

The Petroleum HR Council represents the primary sectors of the upstream petroleum industry in Canada: exploration and production, service industries, pipeline transmission, gas processing, and heavy oil and bitumen mining, extracting and upgrading.



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