By Brad Dunleavy
In February 2013, I landed an entry-level floorhand position on an oil well service rig in Alberta, Canada. For months, I had searched job sites for entry-level positions, but the only job postings I ever came across were for senior positions or jobs that required a specialized education, such as engineer.
I finally succeeded in landing my entry-level oil rig job after spending $3,000 on a course I found through Kijiji while searching for jobs. The course was described in such a way that made it appear to be an oil rig training program. Yet when I got there, it was nothing of the sort.
Rather, all this course did was supply trainers to get us the right certification to work in the oil patch. Then they brought in human resource managers from the oil drilling companies to interview us and offer us positions. Not what I was expecting, but as promised, I landed a job in less than week.
Not everyone in the course got a job. Some attendees had bad driving records—something the program should have screened for beforehand, because oil drilling companies require a clean driver's abstract. Some failed the drug test—something the program screened, but they thought they had been off drugs long enough for it to be out of their system. Some failed the physical, which could not be pre-screened. The physical isn't that hard, but some just couldn't pass it.
After all was said and done, I had a job, but I also accumulated another $7,000 of debt while trying to get settled in Alberta. That was on top of my pre-existing debt load of $5,000.
Ultimately, a number of us talked about our job-hunting experience, and we all came to the same conclusion: we just got ripped off! The course really didn't do anything we couldn't have done on our own, but that begged the question: why didn't we do it on our own if it was so easy?
The answer is that the right information on how to get an entry-level job in the oil industry just isn't out there. Try it and you'll find that Google takes you in circles. So how do you end up where you want to be without knowing where to start?
The reason for this problem, I believe, is because entry-level jobs in the oil industry start at ground zero, meaning the physical location of the oil well. People working these jobs don't need any special education. They start as green hands, learn as they go and work their way up. And the companies that work on the oil wells are contracted out by the oil companies.
This means two things:
1) Since these jobs don't require a special education, the companies filling these jobs can just advertise locally or not at all. Locals can just walk in off the street and submit their resume, or a friend gets them a job, or a friend of a friend, etc.
The point is: there is no need to advertise these jobs beyond the local market because there's never any shortage of people applying from the area.
2) These entry-level jobs are typically filled through third-party firms that are contracted by the oil companies. You're never going to visit the Shell or Imperial Oil website and find an entry-level job to run a vac truck, because the oil company has nothing do with hiring people for these positions.
So, how do you find these entry level jobs? The answer is to get the right certificates before applying and then implement creative online job hunting strategies thereafter. You can start an entry-level job working on an oil rig or service rig, running a vac truck or pressure truck, delivering pipes and pumps, etc. But if these jobs aren't posted on job sites, how do you find them?
Here are some step-by-step strategies you can implement right now to find entry-level oil industry jobs:
1) Figure out where you'd like to work. This only takes a little research. If you live in Canada, the answer is easy: Alberta. The Alberta oil sands hold the world's second largest oil reserve. If you live in the U.S., then Texas or North Dakota are the two most promising destinations. And yes, entry-level jobs will require you to move. The money isn't going to come to you.
2) Go to online classified sites like Kijiji or LocalWork.ca in Canada, or Craig's List or CareerCast if you're in the U.S. Then make a list of all the cities listed in the province or state where you're interested in working. For example, on Kijiji, Alberta has the following cities listed: Banff/Canmore, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Lloydminster, Medicine Hat and Red Deer. Browse the jobs sections while you're making your list and see if there are any local jobs posted. You should find a few.
3) Now take your list of cities and go to WikiPedia, then do a search on the city and scroll down to the media section where you'll find local newspapers and radio stations. Do your research! If the newspaper is online, visit its website and browse the classified ads for jobs. Make a list of all the companies you find, along with their contact information, and then contact someone in the HR department directly by phone or email. Just don't email your resume if you can help it. Also, radio stations aren't just local anymore. Visit the city's local radio station online and listen to its advertisements to find companies that are hiring.
Brad Dunleavy has successfully found a series of jobs in the oil fields of Alberta, Canada, and he hopes to write a book about his experiences as he progresses up the ranks in the energy industry.