Recently, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) adopted a revised 2018-2021 Strategic Plan. Having a clear and strategic path forward for our region is essential. The articulated vision of a vibrant, sustainable region is one that the oil industry wholeheartedly shares.

To achieve that regional vision, a stable and reliable oil sands workforce is key. Oil sands companies use a variety of tools to recruit and retain the workers needed. This includes a combination of local hiring practices, and using Fly In-Fly Out (FIFO) rotational workers.

FIFO and residential employment are complementary approaches in holistic workforce management, where employment options are governed by personal circumstances, preferences and availability of skilled workers. FIFO workers are not unique to the oil sands industry. Within the RMWB, the healthcare sector, indigenous communities, car dealerships and the hospitality sector have all utilized rotational or FIFO workers.

Most oil sands companies offer incentives – housing, or relocation expenses – to encourage local residency for our workers. Most projects have bus or shuttle trips to Fort McMurray and other communities in the region. Depending on the distance from Fort McMurray, Lac La Biche or other communities in RMWB, local hires as a percentage of company workforce range from 5 to up to 94 per cent.

OSCA member companies seek local employees through job postings and other approaches. However, depending on project location, companies report varying degrees of interest expressed by residents in working at these projects. Given the remote location, harsh environment, and unique nature of oil sands development, rotational work schedules remain a crucial tool in attracting these workers.

To further support local workers, some oil sands companies have specific procurement policies that indicate a preference for local or Indigenous contracting. While not all companies have a specific local procurement policy, they do have a philosophical guidance that encourages using local suppliers.

The oil sands industry is eager to develop strategies that provide our workers with strong and vibrant communities, a reasonable cost of living and excellent services and amenities. In the last decade, OSCA member companies have contributed over $190 million in corporate donations to organizations within the Wood Buffalo and Lac La Biche regions, and have awarded $9 billion worth of contracts to Indigenous businesses

To support the rotational workforce, the industry invested significantly, including aerodromes costing up to $100 million, full-service lodge facilities costing up to $250 million each, and ground transportation to safely get workers to remote sites while reducing traffic volumes. However, since the economic downturn in 2014, camp bed utilization for some companies has decreased by more than 50 per cent.

The RMWB has also made significant investments to support FIFO workers, including $25 million to construct the $258 million new airport terminal at the Fort McMurray Airport. In 2017, rotational workers and business travelers related to the oil sands industry represent 296,000 trips (about 40 per cent) of the 740,000 annual passenger trips through the Fort McMurray Airport.

Additionally, OSCA members have provided considerable resources to assist the RMWB with making key decisions about the future. Together industry and the Municipality have collaborated on a revised population model, a plan on community infrastructure needs, and a 10-year transition plan for the RMWB. Each of these strategies are necessary to ensure we’re making the right choices for our community and will determine the quality of life needed to attract new families and new workers to our region.

We recognize that the region is facing many complex issues which will require complex solutions.  We are committed to continuing collaborative discussions with the RMWB with a focus on strengthening our communities, our workforce and our future. As we have shown over the past five decades, the oil sands industry is prepared to be at the table and have that conversation.

Karim Zariffa
Executive Director
Oil Sands Community Alliance
www.oscaalberta.ca