Newfoundland businesses follow their workers west
ST.JOHN’S, N.L. (2008) – What does a Newfoundland company do when the contracts dry up and their workers leave for Alberta to work in that provinces oil industry? Well, they follow them, of course.
With little offshore oil exploration and the delays in the start of Hebron, Newfoundland ‘s next offshore oil project expected to go into production, a lot of Newfoundland oilfield service companies are running out of work. They are seeing their labour force flock to the oil and gas fields of Alberta where there are jobs to go along with that booming economy.
Newfoundland & Labrador which, supposedly, leads the country in economic growth (measured only by GDP) according to many economists, is now seeing its businesses following its workers west, and beyond, looking for better opportunities. There may be lots of cash flowing into the province but there is very little work.
“Our employees who were out there were telling us there were lots of opportunities.” says John Henley, Vice President of Offshore Oil and Development with GJ Cahill, an electrical engineering company based in St. John’s with operations in Dartmouth and Saint John, N.B. “Our competitors were out there and we were trying to keep our workforce together for when opportunities came around again in Newfoundland.” GJ Cahill now have an office in Nisku, Alberta with over 300 employees working in Fort McMurray including on the Horizon Oil Sands Project. “The workforce now is mobile. The fly-in fly-out ability is a great concept and it benefits all involved. The workforce is getting great experience out there, they can get home more regularly. The pay is great and we get to keep our employees,” said Mr. Henley. Thinking ahead to the expected growth in large industrial projects in Newfoundland and Labrador Henley says, “People will come here as easy as northern Alberta as long as the pay and conditions are good.”
Jerry Byrne, President and CEO of DF Barnes, a metal fabrication company, says they have an office and 200 workers in Fort McMurray. “At the time we were concerned about the stalled Hebron project and we saw an opportunity. We needed a bridge and Alberta seemed to be the natural choice.” said Mr. Byrne. “At first we partnered with another Newfoundland company on small projects and we built a reputation for great quality work and safety record so people started coming to us for larger and larger projects.”
They first took a number of employees with them from St. John’s but ended up hiring a lot of Newfoundland expats already living in Alberta. “Now we find that the workforce is inter-changeable with the Alberta based employees coming home when need be and our Newfoundland employees heading west when needed to fill employment gaps in St. John’s,” said Mr. Byrne.
The oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador has always been about hope, waiting and the promise of great things for the local economy. While the boom in St. John’s is evidence of what oil has done for Newfoundland so far with the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose projects producing oil, the real prize is a stable and working industry.
The Newfoundland Oil Industry Association (NOIA) kicked off it’s annual Oil and Gas Week conference in St. Johns on Monday with the theme of education and future opportunities in the oil and gas sector. After addressing the opening event, Bill Fanning, President of Spectrol Energy Service, which has offices in St. John’s, Halifax and Houston, said, “The oil and gas industry is global, if you are in the business in Newfoundland you can be in the business anywhere in the world. It’s about having the mindset.” “The companies who come here are other places in the world so if you prove yourself in our harsh environment you will earn a good reputation and be able to compete for work anywhere.”
Mr. Fanning, a twenty-seven year veteran of Newfoundland’s oil industry who’s company has operations in Canada, the United States, west Africa and southeast Asia says working or expanding outside of your home base is a big move but sometimes it means the difference between succeeding or failing. “It’s certainly not for the weak-kneed. You need to have a game plan …and you find you get knocked off that plan, but if you have the courage and conviction and support of your share holders and workers and create a good vision then anything is possible.”