February 4, 2020 0 Comments Oilfield Industry

The New Alberta Economy

The Fall and (Partial) Recovery in Oil Prices: Pessimism and Cost-Cutting

Many jobs and incomes prior to the oil crash in 2015 aren’t coming back. The industry has learned to squeeze margins by drastically reducing costs (and desirability and happiness of jobs).

Flights usually at most are to Calgary or Edmonton – if that. Most jobs only recruit locals to save cost.

Blue-Collar & Trades in the Oilfield: High Pay, High Risk, High Misery

Most of the higher paying jobs are blue-collar, but they tend to have much higher turnover. Lower entry cost, and lower entry time (which is also cost), but lower stability. They are the kind of jobs where you can make $2,500-5,000 a week but you may not work for 6 months, or you work no overtime or just a compressed workweek, then get laid off after the project is done. It is very hard to gauge how much you make in a year; can be $50,000, $70,000, 150,000, or 200,000.

For example: we are paid here $2,500-3,500/week, but the oil company only does drilling projects in the winter. In the spring, and fall, we then have “shutdowns”, where the plants go into a major maintenance period and have a surge in spending. These gigs usually last a month or less. Winter projects usually go for 2-3 months. All together, on a good one, we’d get 5 months of solid work in a year; approx. $60,000-70,000 of income, plus EI and/or some other odd jobs we do in between.

In the good years, us oilfield truckers and operators can see $100,000-150,000 over a year; $15,000 for a month of work when busy. The electricians or mechanics could see over 200,000 a year.

The New Normal: Happy to make $100,000, or Just to Work

Nowadays it seems like most people are happy just to see $100,000, or just to work.

This is the kind of money people are happy to be working for in the oil patch these days, doing 12 hour days in sub -40C weather, away from home. This around often terrible people who make your workplace seem like a paid prison.

I personally do not think spending years to get your experience built enough to be constantly employable, while going though the above, to be worth just $100,000/year, if that. If you are still in the position to start another worthwhile career and/or go to school, spend your grief, time, and money on that instead. This does not mean that going to school for 4-5 years and $30,000+ of tuition, to make $40,000/year, is a good idea either however. At that rate you may as well complete a trade.

The days of easy quick 6 figures or huge trades income are long gone. That earning power is more so reserved for those who’ve put their time in and also have had luck.

Many “permanent” camp jobs operate on set rotations, such as a week on and a week off. Many blue collar jobs sit in the mid $3x/hour range, and 12 hour shifts are standard. If you take the median, it comes to roughly $81,000 per year income. If you’re a journeyman tradesperson who gets around the $40-45/hour mark, this comes to $90,000-100,000 range. In the old days there was so much work that people could work almost as much as they wanted. This is where the stories of $200,000+ per year income tradespeople came from, as then they’d have their overtime kick in as well. This before many sites reverted to compressed workweeks to avoid paying overtime.

More stable 6-figure salary jobs are far in between but still exist, though more so for people with 5-10+ years of experience and an extensive list of credentials. Project managers, senior supervisors, to name a few.

Other Opportunities in Alberta Outside the Oilfield and Trades

There are still many traditional office jobs key to the functioning of industry in Alberta, such as CPAs, analysts, recruiters, controllers, payroll people, managers, bookkeepers, software engineers, IT people, etc. But competition is extremely fierce and apart from the tech sector, those people are happy to make $50,000-60,000/year. Closer to $70-80K for things like supervisors, operations managers or CPAs, but typically those in those positions have already put many years in.