Canada’s Aging Workforce Creating Challenges for Alberta’s Heavy Oil Industry

March 16th, 2009 by

By Pat Hinds

I spent last week in Fort McMurray attending a two-day seminar and touring the heavy oil mining and SAGD operations.  I took a flight from Calgary to Fort McMurray and what struck me was the number of men between the ages of 40 and 65.  Over the majority of my career I have worked in Calgary in the technology sector; most of the people that I deal with are under the age of 40 and a mix of men and women.  This is the first time in my career that the aging workforce issue has been as obvious and I was taken back by this fact.

I decided I would pay attention to the ages and gender of the people I met in Fort McMurray to validate if the group of guys I shared the plane ride with was an anomaly, or if in fact I had been isolated from Canada’s aging workforce.  During my first dinner in the hotel I counted about 30 males over the age of 40.  I went to the seminar for two days and 98% of the attendees were male and over the age of 40.  I sat at the security gate of several oil sands operations observing people going in and out of the plant, and not surprisingly, all the workers were males over the age of 40.  Yes, my hypothesis seemed to be correct; my informal research was quite conclusive — the heavy oil industry in Alberta is definitely made-up of males older than 40 years old!  

The estimates of the Alberta oil sands is it holds the second largest reserves in the world, and unlike conventional oil, the oil sands are very labor intensive.  If you have spent any time in Fort McMurray you know that the environment is brutal; it was minus 40 Celsius for two of the days I was onsite and a major snowstorm the day I left.  In the short run the oil sands is being impacted by the credit crunch and the backlash from President Obama desire to reduce CO2 omissions.  However, the real issue facing the oil sands will be the lack of a qualified workforce to draw from to run the existing and new operations planned over the next decade.

Listed below is a recent article that was in the Calgary Herald that speaks to Canada’s aging work force at:


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