Black gold: Jobs aplenty

There are great jobs aplenty in Alberta’s red-hot energy sector.

Everyone knows Alberta’s oilpatch is red-hot. Soaring energy prices and record profits have led to unprecedented growth in the energy sector, and the demand for skilled white- and blue-collar energy workers has skyrocketed. Large signing bonuses, lucrative stock options and finder’s fees, as high as $8,000, have become the order of the day. According to the Calgary economic development office, 8,800 new jobs were created in the Calgary economic region last year, out of a total of 651,600 jobs. We spoke to three Calgary-based executive search professionals to find out what the Top 10 hottest jobs in the oilpatch are right now:

Exploitation/reservoir engineers

Base salary: $60,000 to $130,000

Job requirements: Engineers, preferably with experience in the upstream oil and gas industry.

What’s involved: Also known as “downhole” engineers, these are the folks who define the size and scope of an underground oil or gas reservoir and determine its production potential. These highly specialized professionals also help determine what technologies are necessary for extraction from the reservoir.

Who’s hiring: “At risk of sounding colloquial, everyone,” says Mark Hopkins, a partner at Calgary-based executive search firm Conroy Ross Partners Ltd.

Construction superintendent

Base salary: $90,000 to $120,000

Job requirements: Between 10 and 20 years of experience, preferably on complex institutional projects such as hospitals, large shopping centres and office towers.

What’s involved: These are on-the-ground supervisory positions that involve overseeing large commercial projects in and around boomtown Calgary. These jobs come with lots of pressure, but plenty of reward, too: depending on the scope of the project, bonuses can range from 25% to 50%, based on achieving a set of pre-established construction milestones.

Who’s hiring: Major construction firms such as Cana Ltd., AMEC and PCL Constructors Inc.

Truck driver

Base salary: Up to $100,000

Job requirements: Ability to drive a large-haul truck for up to 60 hours a week; a valid Class 1 licence for large combination vehicles; and air-brake certification.

What’s involved: There is a huge demand for truck drivers in both the up- and downstream oil and gas sectors. Upstream truckers are required to haul materials such as crude oil, oilfield chemicals and bitumen; downstream truckers transport refined products such as gasoline and diesel and heating and lube oils. Intense competition between both sectors means good pay. “If you need more people, you just need to throw more money at it,” says Don Bietz, executive vice-president and COO of Calgary-based ECL Group Ltd., an oilfield services company that also owns a bulk transportation company with 350 employees.

Who’s hiring: Major freight, bulk, and oilfield transport companies and oilsands- services firms.

In-house legal counsel

Base salary: $180,000 to $250,000

Job requirements: As the regulatory environment in the oilpatch becomes more complex, large energy companies are increasingly looking for experienced lawyers (usually with 10-plus years in the business) with a solid understanding of governance, disclosure and compliance issues specific to oil and gas. Commercial and contract law experience is also important.

What’s involved: These are strategic, management-focused roles that involve plenty of interaction with boards of directors. Downstream companies (those focused on refining and marketing) also need lawyers who understand both environmental law and employment law.

Who’s hiring: Large energy companies (typically those with market caps in excess of $1 billion) looking to “staff up” their legal departments.

Exploration vice-president

Base salary: Up to $250,000

Job requirements: At least 10 years experience as a geologist or geophysicist

What’s involved: Exploration VPs are in charge of orchestrating and managing entire drilling programs; figuring out where to drill, purchasing the land rights, deciding how to get the oil or gas out of the ground and how deep to drill. It sometimes also means overseeing a multibillion-dollar budget that can include as many as 70 operating wells at any given time. “They’re looking for people who have worked wells where they’ve discovered stuff,” says Brent Shervey, managing director at the Calgary office of Boyden Global Executive Search. “If you’ve drilled 20 wells but every single one of them was a duster, it’s going to be pretty hard to get people to hire you.”

Who’s hiring: Exploration and production firms; large integrated oil and gas companies.

Project engineer

Base salary: $120,000 to $250,000

Job requirements: At least six or seven years experience as an engineer in the oil and gas industry.

What’s involved: Project engineers are in charge of designing major elements of new or existing oilsands or gas plants. Typical duties include designing and installing equipment for a refinery, overseeing a team of specialists, including draftsmen and instrumentation engineers, and laying out the technical specifications (miles of pipe, pressure in the pipe and type of vessel) for major projects. According to Shervey, full-time project engineers are practically “impossible to find”–because many have opted for the more lucrative contract route, where they bill “astronomical” hourly rates for their services.

Who’s hiring: Large project engineering or EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) firms.

Chief financial officer/controller

Base salary: $150,000 to $350,000

Job requirements: Chartered accountants with MBAs, or certified management accountants with at least 10 years of professional experience in the energy sector. Should also have at least one successful initial public offering under your belt.

What’s involved: The CFO position involves overseeing the accounting operations of an oil and gas company. Working knowledge of U.S. accounting rules is also a must. “What’s happening is that an awful lot of U.S. and foreign money is being invested in the oil and gas business, and you have to know how to transfer Canadian financial results into U.S. ones,” says Shervey. Due to the nature of deal-making in Alberta’s oilpatch, it’s also important to understand the vagaries of joint-venture accounting. Says Shervey: “Two or three firms will get together and develop a well or a field, and deciding who gets what percentage of royalties or revenues can be very tricky stuff.”

Who’s hiring: Exploration and production firms; large oil and gas companies.

Vice-president or director of human resources

Base salary: $150,000 to $200,000+

Job requirements: Demand for senior-level human-resources professionals has soared. But unlike most of the other hot jobs on this list, previous oil and gas experience is only a nice-to-have, not a must. Job candidates should have at least 15 years of senior managerial experience at a company that has been through at least one major growth spurt.

What’s involved: Senior HR directors, managers or VPs can expect to spend a good deal of time on hot-button issues in the industry: compensation and recruitment.

Who’s hiring: Large-cap exploration and productions companies (including the integrated energy firms) and royalty trusts.

Chief operating officer/VP Operations

Base salary: $180,000 to $250,000 (with bonus up to $500,000)

Job requirements: A COO or vice-president of operations oversees day-to-day operations of an oil or gas firm. The position typically requires someone with specific experience in Western Canada. Ideal candidates are professional engineers with 15-plus years experience in a senior managerial role.

What’s involved: “Companies that historically had fewer reporting lines have found they’ve now reached a size and scale where it makes sense to appoint a person to oversee operations,” says Rory Tyler, a Calgary-based senior client partner with executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. “The pace of activity is huge, and there’s been a consolidation in the business.”

Who’s hiring: Oil and gas exploration and production companies, royalty trusts and oilsands ventures.

Investment bankers

Base salary: $75,000 to $200,000 (with bonus up to $2 million)

Job requirements: “For a lot of the national banks, the energy area has been their most profitable zone,” says Tyler. That said, all the major bank-owned and independent brokerage firms are looking to hire seasoned people with M&A and equity-financing skills. Previous experience in oil and gas is an asset, as is an impressive client book.

What’s involved: Senior i-bankers are in hot demand at just about every investment dealer in Calgary. “The boutiques are really where things seem to be very hot, given that a lot of the financing activity happens at the junior end of the market and a lot of the bigger Canadian and U.S. banks don’t even play down there,” says Tyler.

Who’s hiring: Boutique brokerage firms such as Blackmont Capital Inc. and Westwind Partners Inc.; large Canadian and U.S. banks that have recently set up shop in Calgary.