Working in “Fort Mac”– a primer

Welcome_to_fort_mcmurrayI have a friend working up in Fort McMurray who has steadily moved up the ranks in the industry.  I got in touch with him over the weekend to ask a few questions about the industry and what it takes to successfully land a job.

-Brodie D’Angio

Fort McMurray – Questions:

We’re trying to put together information for job seekers looking for jobs in Alberta. I was wondering if you might be able to answer a few questions…

First, I was hoping you might be able to provide some brief job profiles. What are a few of the common positions at your company, and what are some common positions you see in general in Fort McMurray

-The entry level position in my company is labourer. This is the same for many of the larger contractors in town. Labourers typically make $25-$30/hr in the mines. The work isn’t overly demanding. It often involves traffic control (flagging), moving around lighting plants, pumping water, running supplies out to heavy equipment operators and other general tasks. Labourers who perform well can typically expect to get a chance to run smaller haul trucks or other heavy equipment within their first year of employment.

-The bulk of our workers are a variety of heavy equipment operators. Many people who come to Fort Mac want to drive the big haul trucks in the mines. You don’t require any official training or tickets to run the haul trucks or most of the heavy equipment. There are lots of expensive courses ($5,000-$10,000) that can teach you the basics of running equipment, but these courses alone aren’t usually enough to get you jobs running machines. Many of the labourers on my crew have taken these courses.

-These heavy equipment operator jobs usually pay $35-$40/hr when working for major contractors, or significantly more for those employed by the mines themselves. Much of this work is seasonal, with workers constantly jockeying for jobs and getting hired/laid off as projects open and close. There is a constant demand for experienced heavy equipment operators, so those with experience on excavators, graders, dozers etc should have no problem finding high paying work. Lots of our operators come from other industries around the country, such as logging or even farming.

Second, what would these jobs require as pre-requisites, but more importantly how would someone land a job in Fort McMurray…

-It’s very hard to find entry level work in the mines. A massive number of unskilled people from all over the country swarm here in hopes of making the big bucks, and competition for entry level positions is brutal. Ticketed tradespeople are constantly in demand and will have a much, much easier time finding high paying work. The job that seems to be in highest demand as far as I can tell is crane operators.  A very large number of them are needed in construction and the union boards are filled with crane jobs.

What type of certificates are required and which are assets?

-To work in any field on any of the oil sands sites, you need two relatively easy-to-get, generic training courses. They are OSSA (Oil Sands Safety Association) and CSTS (Construction Safety Training Systems). These two classes can be taken together at the local college (Keyano College) and take one full day. They are offered a few times each week.

-Anything safety related would be a huge asset. The ability to follow safety rules and regulations is by far the single most important thing anybody looks for here. Any way that a safe work record can be highlighted in a job application would be a big help.

Is it possible to do from out of town (say applying from PR?)

-Absolutely, all job applications are pretty much done online. Many places only accept online applications.

Some websites I recommend are:

  • Fort McMurray Online – Solid classifieds, gives a good slice of work both in town and in the mines
  • Infomine – A large mining website, more suited for people with experience in a trade
  • Fort McMurray Jobs FB page: -Handy little Q&A put on by people like you, they list jobs fairs etc.
  • IUOE 955 Job Board – This is the union I’m in. Almost all of the major mining contractors hire their equipment operators through here. None of the sites themselves, however, are connected to this union.

What makes one resume stand out from another?

-From what I’ve been told, they really prefer concise, fact based resumes here. The big companies deal with pretty massive volumes of resumes and want to get to the important goods right away. Many of these companies will make you go through their own application portals on their websites rather than let you just send in resumes. From what I’ve been told, these applications are searched for key words (like specific names and sizes of heavy equipment) and sorted that way.

Do many people use hiring agencies?

-Not 100% on this but I don’t feel that they do. Most of the mines and major contractors have pretty big HR departments that handle this stuff.

Also, what time of year is best for applying and when is the worst?

-We have spring breakup here, which occurs when temperatures come above freezing and all the winter’s snow and ice melts (late March). During this time, pretty much nothing moves at all as the mud is just not worth the effort of battling. At this time, many winter workers leave to their home provinces and stay there until the following winter.

In my opinion, right after breakup is the best time to look for work as all the summer projects that couldn’t be done during the frozen times open up, and many people are needed to both fill new spots and replace those who don’t come back after the breakup. Summer is steadily busy for work, and sometimes early fall can get busy with companies trying to get projects done before the big freeze.

There’s a lesser version of the breakup in the fall when temperatures hover around zero, freezing, melting and making a mess.  The winter is a prime time for major mining operations because heavy trucks can drive on the frozen ground without getting stuck, so usually there is lots of work in January-February.

-I very strongly recommend that anyone who wants to come up here takes their time and looks very carefully at the job market here, which can be seen very clearly from anywhere.  Most people working in fast food/grocery etc. are people who came out here to work in the mines but haven’t been able to get in yet.

3 thoughts on “Working in “Fort Mac”– a primer

  1. I work in ft Mac as a paramedic many people that I talk to are not informed about working in the north especially ft Mac. They figure they can go there with no skills or experience and employers will dump buckets of money on them.this information that I just read I very good and correct in my experience of being there.excellent info and any one going there would be well advised to follow it keep up the good work staff of carrier link. Brian(BushMan)Lee

    1. HAve you heard about any paramedic sponsor programs in ft. Mac?
      I knew a guy that said he had his schooling paid for, as long as he did his practical with SUNCOR.

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