Labourer work is hard, physical work. Often labourers prepare and clean up construction sites, move material and equipment, and perform demolition, excavation and compaction activities.
One of the common beliefs about getting employment in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray area) is that employers will take everyone and anyone. In reality, employers want staff with experience, even in positions such as labourers.
“We have a constant demand for labourers,” says Mandy Yeoman, office manager for Genroc Drywall. “On a busy week, we need more workers and if we slow down, we need less. Demand changes constantly.”
The kind of labourer experience a job seeker has is important. Construction of an oil sands project is much different work than residential construction, so companies may require their workers to have experience in that field.
“We look for labourers with any experience, but especially in industrial construction,” says Guy Cocquyt, director of investor relations with Flint Energy Services, a construction contractor. “They could have experience doing cement work, rebar tying, concrete work, excavation and general carpentry. People who have worked on an industrial work site would obviously be of great interest.”
A labourer is an entry-level position. Labourers work in a variety of industries, but in Wood Buffalo, most work in construction and are placed in the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 7611 – Construction trades helpers and labourers. Their job is to prepare and clean up construction sites, move materials and equipment and perform demolition, excavation and compaction activities. Labourers need to be physically strong, have stamina, have manual dexterity, be safety conscious and be able to work with others. They work outside in all weather conditions and overtime is often required.
The job of labourer generally does not require a high school diploma, but if a person wants to get their Alberta Occupational Certificate as a construction craft labourer, they must have at least Grade 9. Visit Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training (www.tradesecrets.gov.ab.ca) for more information on certification.
Oil sands sites require their contractors’ employees have at least a Grade 9 education to enter the worksite, but if a job seeker wants to use this position to move into a trades-helper position and eventually an apprentice position, they should have their high school diploma. Flint Energy requires their workers be 18 years old and other companies may have similar requirements.
Wages and salary
Wages depend on experience and the kind of work involved. An entry-level labourer position starts at about $17 to $18 per hour in Wood Buffalo, plus benefits. A member of the Construction and General Workers Union, Local 92, receives $18.22 as a trainee, up to the maximum amount of $28.03 (plus benefits) for a certified construction craft labourer.
Positions may, or may not, come with accommodations (housing, living allowance or camp accommodations). More and more employers are including some form of housing help as a benefit. Cocquyt with Flint Energy says that for work sites around Fort McMurray, most of their staff stay in camp. Genroc Drywall has housing available in Fort McMurray for their staff. Other companies may have different kinds of housing help available to their staff. This is something a person must negotiate with the employer prior to employment. (See the Camp Housing bulletin at www.woodbuffalo.net/LMNMain102007.html).
Length of work
Overtime is common during peak construction periods and labourers in some industries may be laid off in the slower times.
On industrial sites, the labourer will not have work continuing through the entire construction project. A construction project has different phases, starting with the initial engineering process, through to startup. Labourers are mostly needed during the first couple phases of construction. Labourer work begins in the Underground phase, where electrical trenching, street lighting and fibre optic work is done. The greatest number of labourers are needed in the next stage—the Civil phase, where piling, pile caps and foundation work is done. And while labourers are mostly needed at the front end of a project, some labourers are needed throughout the entire project. See www.woodbuffalo.net/employCONST.html for the complete list of phases in an oil sands construction project.
Because labourer work fluctuates during the life of a project, it is a good idea for job seekers to know the phases of the projects in Wood Buffalo. A good place to start is the Inventory of Major Alberta Projects (http://www.albertacanada.com/about-alberta/inventory-of-major-projects.html). While the inventory does not list at what point the project is, it does outline the planned length of time of construction and whether construction has started or not.
For job seekers who want their job as a labourer to be a starting point for a career, there are opportunities available. Employers want to see initiative and a desire to move up within the company. The most common move within construction companies is from labourer to apprentice tradesperson, but advancement is not limited to that route. Yeoman says that they had a labourer working for them who went back to school and is now in the office doing managerial work.
“Quite a few people that are hired as general labourers end up in apprenticeship programs. People who have a good work ethic, good attitude and impress their supervisors can move up,” says Cocquyt. He adds that they have a large demand for ticketed tradespeople, and this can be one way a person can move up to becoming one.
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