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The Future of Oil Sands Workforce


What a difference a decade makes.

Alberta’s oil sands operations sector employed just over 20,000 workers in 2011 and is projected to grow to 35,000 by 2021 (an increase of over 73%), according to a recent report by the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada. Increased production, combined with age-related attrition and competition from other industries, means the oil sands will need to fill over 23,000 vacancies over the next decade.



“Demand for more workers is being driven primarily by production growth in the sector,” explained Cheryl Knight, Executive Director and CEO of the Council. “The supply of skilled workers remains very tight. Going forward, two major labour market risks will be age-related attrition and competition from other industries.”

Moreover, demographic shifts are creating significant skill shortages where younger workers cannot effectively replace experienced retiring workers, and there are shifts happening within the industry changing the types of workers required.

The following is a list of the top 10 occupations that will experience the greatest hiring requirements over the next decade:

1. Steam-ticketed operators

2. Heavy equipment operators

3. Petroleum engineers

4. Engineering managers

5. Facility operations and maintenance managers

6. Heavy-duty mechanics

7. Primary production managers

8. Instrumentation technicians

9. Mechanical engineers

10. Industrial electricians


Action Needed

Ensuring access to an innovative, productive and stable workforce is a key factor in the sustainability and cost management equation.

“The boom years of 2006 and 2007 showed the negative impact labour and skill shortages can have on the sector’s ability to do business,” said Knight. “Since then, companies have devoted time and resources to minimizing the impacts of labour shortages on their corporate sustainability and growth.”

A variety of strategies can be employed to address these issues:

  • Companies can draw talent from diverse labour supply pools, build internal capacity with workforce development, retain the baby boom population longer, enhance worker mobility, and recruit workers from outside the industry.
  • Governments can communicate with industry to understand labour and skill requirements, enhance programs to grow the number of qualified workers in Canada, improve interprovincial recognition of credentials, and streamline access to international talent.
  • Labour supply organizations can communicate the industry’s workforce requirements to labour supply pools; plan education and training programs to support labour and skill needs; promote training programs to diverse audiences of potential students; strengthen partnerships among industry, governments, community organizations and educational institutions; and offer online and on-site training programs.
  • Career counsellors can play an important role by recommending to their clients training, education and occupational choices that fill the gaps in the oil sands’ workforce requirements.


Oil Sands Labour Market Outlook to 2021

The information presented are highlights from the Oil Sands Labour Market Outlook to 2021, part of the Council’s suite of labour market information (LMI) products. The outlook provides oil sands labour demand projections and analysis based on data for 55 core occupations in oil sands operations. It was developed through the support of industry and funding from the Government of Alberta.


The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada develops innovative and strategic human resources solutions to prepare the oil and gas industry to address its current and future labour challenges. For more information on the council’s LMI products, visit


Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:20

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