By Nathan Vanderklippe
Calgary — Canada’s oil patch is scrambling to bring back foreign workers, desperate to avoid a repeat of the labour crunch that clobbered the industry three years ago.
With oil prices hovering at a lofty $100 (U.S.) a barrel, new discoveries scarce and Asian energy demand on the rise, Canadian companies are taking every measure to ensure oil sands projects aren’t slowed down by labour shortages. The federal government has resumed granting approval for companies to fly in trades workers from other countries. And labour recruiters are drafting corporate international hiring plans and reopening skills training centres to prepare workers in places like Mexico to come to Canada.
The surge in hiring comes amid forecasts that Alberta will need tens of thousands of new workers in coming years as it attempts to cope with a spending spree expected to top the heights of the last boom, which peaked when crude hit $147 a barrel in 2008. Then, a shortage of workers and soaring labour costs caused widespread pain, bringing delays, multibillion-dollar increases to project costs and shoddy work that has plagued newly built facilities.
Companies have since instituted labour caps, chopped projects into smaller sizes that are easier to manage, committed to finish engineering before building, and hired overseas firms to manufacture key components. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is even promising to halt major construction from Dec. 15 to Feb. 1, a time when cold weather and holidays hurt productivity.